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UNIVERSITY 
OF FLORIDA 
LIBRARIES 







COLLEGE LIBRARY 



Critiques 



C R I T I QJJ E S 



BY 

AUGUSTUS RALLI 

Author of Guide to Carlyle 



Essay Index Reprint Series 



BOOKS FOR LIBRARIES PRESS, INC. 
FREEPORT, NEW YORK 



First published 1927 
Reprinted 1966 




ACKNOWLEDGMENTS 

THE essays in this volume are reprinted from the 
periodicals in which they first appeared, by the 
courtesy of the Editors and Proprietors, viz., Borrow 
and Charlotte Bronte from the Fortnightly Review ; Emily 
Bronte, The Earthly Paradise, The Wessex Novels, Swin- 
burne and Pater from the North American Review ; 
Boswell from the Westminster Review, and portions of 
Jane Austen and Edward FitzGerald from Everyman. 



Digitized by the Internet Archive 
in 2013 



http://archive.org/details/critiquesOOrall 



CONTENTS 



EMILY BRONTE : THE PROBLEM OF PERSONALITY 

" THE EARTHLY PARADISE " 

THE HEART OF THE WESSEX NOVELS 

SWINBURNE 

THE HOME-LAND OF JANE AUSTEN 

PLUTARCH REVISITED 

GEORGE BORROW 

PATER THE HUMANIST 

CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

EDWARD FITZGERALD AND HIS TIMES 

BOSWELL 



JNALITY 


I 




*9 




37 




5 1 




. 69 




■ 93 




• "5 




• 137 




• 147 




• 171 




. 187 



Smily Uronte : The Problem of Personality 



EMILY BRONTE : THE PROBLEM OF 
PERSONALITY 



EMILY BRONTE is among the great ones whom 
it is said that we do not know, and the curiosity 
that seeks to know more of a writer than his works 
reveal has been condemned as unworthy. We are 
told that since he has expressed his mind, and so given 
his best to the world, we should not hunt after mere 
personal details. That this objection sounds more 
plausible than it is, and the modern instinct to make 
biography intimate is not a mistaken one, is the task 
here set before us to prove. 

Let us realize in the beginning that art is a social 
virtue, that the ultimate reward of all success is social 
success, and that man is incomplete till he has expressed 
not only his mind but his personality. The supreme 
fact of life is personality, and its expression can be 
attained only by contact with men and women. To 
win battles, sway senates, discover new lands, write 
immortal verse : beyond all these, beyond even the 
mind's satisfaction in exercising its powers, is the 
approval of such as have done like things, is admission 
sought and won into the Paradise of this world — the 
kind glances of fair women and brave men. Disraeli's 
social success pleased him as much as his political, and 
there have been great men without personal magnetism, 
such as the American General Grant, or Jenner of vaccina- 
tion fame. An aristocracy of pure intellect will never 



EMILY BRONTE : 

possess the earth, and the unkempt man of genius no 
longer excites admiring wonder. While man inhabits 
the earth he consists of body as well as mind ; the 
ascetic ideal that despises the body as a clog to the spirit 
is rejected ; and the modern culture of the body implies 
that it is a means of expressing the soul. Did not 
Leonardo da Vinci say that one of the two most wonderful 
sights in the world was the smiling of women ? n 

Plato commended the spoken above the written word, 
because its meaning is strengthened by change of voice, 
glance of eye, movement of hand ; and we need only 
revolve in our thoughts a few homely instances to be 
assured how vain it is to dispart mind and body. A 
letter cannot compensate for an absent friend, and 
a bore is a person whose utterances may be foretold. 
A twice-told tale will weary, and words that passed 
almost unnoticed may return and rankle in solitude, 
and again dissolve like a dream when the speaker is 
beheld once more in the flesh. A child prefers a story 
told rather than read from a book, and the very word 
" lecture " is evilly associated. Gloom envelops a 
company when a person adopts the lecturer's tone, 
speaking in a manner once removed from the personali- 
ties of his hearers, solving the problem by the help 
of ready made wisdom instead of that generated by 
the immediate contact of minds. A great orator creates 
the illusion in each member of his audience that he is 
spoken to directly ; and a letter writer of genius never 
loses contact with his correspondent, whether his theme 
be objective or subjective ; whether it be Cowper 
analysing his religious melancholy, or Horace Walpole 
describing the Gordon riots. The Bacon-Shakespeare 
dispute is not hushed by the argument that we have 
the plays so it matters little who wrote them ; and 
the saying once current that not Homer but someone 
of the same name composed the Homeric poems, is 
less absurd than it appears. 

Quoted by Pater. 



THE PROBLEM OF PERSONALITY 

The conclusion is that mind and body express each 
other, and we do not know our fellow-creatures by one 
alone. Because of the few surviving details of his life 
we do not know Shakespeare, though through the mouths 
of his characters we have his thoughts on every subject 
in the world and beyond. Much of the cloud of darkness 
surrounding Chatham has been dispelled by the discovery 
of his latest biographer, Mr. Basil Williams, that he was 
exceptionally grateful for acts of personal kindness. 
Modern critics like Mr. T. S. Eliot and Mr. J. Middleton 
Murry affirm that every mental process has its equivalent 
in the world of sense ; indeed Mr. Eliot says that 
Hamlet remains obscure because Shakespeare failed to 
find something in the outer world corresponding to the 
hero's disgust at his mother's conduct. It pleases us 
to think that the essence of the immortal biography is 
contained in Dr. Johnson's stentorian call to his servant 
Frank for a clean shirt, when Boswell had pleaded 
successfully with Mrs. Williams and the road to the 
Wilkes' dinner party lay open. 

The lack of objective correlatives places Emily Bronte 
among the unknown. Yet the task must not be aban- 
doned, even if we make only the slight advance of 
realizing more fully the difficulties that beset us. If 
personality is the force proceeding from united soul 
and body made objective by the difficulties which 
stay it or which it overcomes, we can learn something 
by inquiring into the nature of the difficulties. We 
think of Cowper succumbing in his struggle with the 
wish to believe ; FitzGerald self-banished from a world 
he found too hard ; Swift finally baffled in his desire 
for power and place and retiring to die like a poisoned 
rat in a hole — to use his own phrase ; Charlotte Bronte 
vainly seeking love as a refuge from hypochondria : 
and in consequence we know much of all these. Then 
we turn to Gibbon or Wordsworth, both of whom realized 
their personalities objectively — the one in his history, 
the other in contemplating nature and giving to his 



EMILY BRONTE : 

thoughts enduring form. Again, we have a middle 
class such as Byron and Carlyle, who achieved great 
fame but remained miserable — the one because of his 
lost social reputation, the other through imperfect faith, 
and despair at the condition of the world. 

With Emily Bronte there is a break between the 
operations of her mind as her books reveal it and the few 
biographical facts that have come down to us. We 
know that she was the least accessible of the three sisters 
of genius in the remote Haworth parsonage. She 
refused all acquaintance beyond her family, and yet 
was passionately interested in the fortunes of the people 
about her. As Charlotte says : " She knew their ways, 
their language, their family histories ; she could hear 
of them with interest, and talk of them with detail, 
minute, graphic, and accurate ; but with them she 
rarely exchanged a word." At school in Brussels she 
spoke to no one, and although, with Charlotte, she 
spent her weekly holiday at the house of an English 
family, she remained throughout impenetrable to friendly 
advances. Heger remarked upon her capacity for 
argument, unusual in a man and rare indeed in a woman ; 
adding that hers was a stubborn tenacity of will which 
rendered her obtuse to all reasoning where her own 
wishes or her own sense of right were concerned. Mrs. 
Gaskell described her as reserved in the least favourable 
sense of the word ; that is, indifferent if she pleased or 
not. When she went as pupil to Roe Head and teacher 
to a school near Halifax, she succumbed to home- 
sickness, and her year's absence in Brussels was nearly 
cut short for the same reason. She loved liberty, she 
enjoyed passionately the lonely moors, and she loved 
wild animals because they were wild. Even in the 
small home circle she had a preference, and we doubt 
if she responded fully to the affection Charlotte lavished 
upon her. Charlotte described her as intractable, and 
observed that to advocate one side of a cause would 
ensure her adoption of the opposite. She began to write 



THE PROBLEM OF PERSONALITY 

poetry without confiding in Charlotte, and was not 
pleased by Charlotte's chance discovery of her manu- 
scripts. Perhaps her sister Anne, with a lesser mind, 
had a more receptive nature, and made a better com- 
panion to a woman of genius. To the end of Emily's 
short life the two played the game of make-believe 
which they called the Gondal Chronicles. No summary 
of facts should omit such harrowing details of her death 
scene as the silence she opposed to questions as to her 
state, and her refusal until too late to allow a " poisoning 
doctor " to come near her. 

With every wish to estimate Emily favourably, it is 
hard to do so with the foregoing facts in mind. Exclu- 
sive family affection is not a commending trait, and one 
who persistently declines friendly advances is apt to 
forfeit human sympathy. In her last illness, had she 
no thought for the moral sufferings of her sisters when 
she refused to answer questions or see a doctor ? And 
yet it is only fair to recall Charlotte's saying that she 
was full of ruth for others though without pity on herself. 
If we turn from Charlotte's direct sayings to her fictitious 
and therefore suggestive ones, we are equally baffled. 
Shirley Keeldar was supposed to represent Emily in 
happier circumstances, and yet, while external things 
such as the rich dresses she wore are much dwelt upon, 
we are not helped in the ultimate object of our search — 
a human soul made more beautiful on earth by the 
body. 

There is enough to stimulate but not satisfy the 
imagination. We can picture the pleased expression 
on her face in solitude when anticipating her sisters' 
home-coming, the smile with which she greeted them, 
the especial look she reserved for Anne when they 
found themselves alone. On the reverse side we can 
picture the despair in her eyes when one after another 
came the harsh reviews of Wuthering Heights. But 
still we lack the actual collision of soul and sense with 
the outer world to make the vision real. 



EMILY BRONTE : 

Life is greater than art, the artist's mind surpasses 
his work, and the crowd of men, indifferent to art, never 
desist to seek God in their fellow-creatures, though 
they may know it not. The example of Emily Bronte 
suggests two problems especially prominent at the 
present day : personality and hero-worship. Carlyle 
taught us that hero-worship is the adamant below which 
unbelief cannot fall ; and that if you convince a man 
he is in the presence of a higher soul his knees are 
automatically loosened in reverence. Lately Marcel 
Proust remarked that some people think of society 
as an Indian caste in which you take your place as 
you are born, but in reality all is due to personality : 
the humblest can become the friend of princes, and 
there are many princes whose acquaintance no one 
desires. 

Carlyle preached the doctrine of work ; he predicted 
a commonwealth of workers, and advised the man who 
had no work to hide himself ; yet he privately admitted 
true good breeding to be one of the finest things in the 
world, and remarked the care of well-bred persons to 
avoid all unpleasant topics in conversation. The two 
are contradictory, for the effect of strenuous work — other 
than artistic — is to materialize, and good breeding can 
only thrive in the soil of leisure. The kind of character 
developed by the Victorian professional and business 
man is an answer to those who plead the dignity of 
work ; and the modern desire for education in late 
life is an attempt to restore the balance of the mind 
which every profession inevitably disturbs. The duty 
of work is to overcome difficulties ; the powers which 
it develops are the combative or competitive ; whereas 
the right use of leisure is to promote the growth of the 
soul — and the greatest soul is that which has the greatest 
power to love. Good breeding implies that the material 
struggle has been concluded generations back, that 
there is no need to compete with others for means of 
living and so acquire the habit of preferring things to 



THE PROBLEM OF PERSONALITY 

persons. That a leisured class by attaining a certain 
mental outlook becomes the symbol of a more perfect 
life, alone justifies its existence in our distracted modern 
world, and makes the sight of luxury side by side with 
poverty at all bearable ; and the toiling millions still 
feel an instinctive respect for those who dress finely and 
bear themselves graciously and do no work, despite the 
Communist orator. 

That leisure and accumulated wealth are daily put 
to the worst uses is a truth we will not stay to consider 
in our search for the conditions in which personality 
may develop. Something has been said of good breed- 
ing, but as the highest beauty lies in expression, and 
the world soon tires of perfect features that lack it, so 
the long-solved material struggle does but prepare the 
ground by eliminating gross desires. We return to 
Proust's saying, and also remember that Becky Sharp 
climbed the social ladder to be ultimately bored. The 
soul uses the refined body to suggest a higher beauty ; 
for man seeks God in his fellow-creatures, and it was 
a doctrine of the neo-Platonists that a beautiful person 
could not be wicked. Hence are those stories eternally 
fascinating which tell how gods or angels have come down 
to live with men. 

Thus the world labours to produce a race intermediate 
between God and man : the body on which generations 
of leisure have worked as with a chisel, the feelings — 
when not blasted by pride — responding to the sorrows 
of the lowest, the mind touched by those arts and 
philosophies which add thought to beauty. And to 
become a member of this race is the crown of all earthly 
effort, including art. Keats and Shelley were two of 
the most intense lyricists of all time, yet each laid aside 
his art before the close of his troubled life because the 
world would not listen. Surely this tribute of art to 
life proves that man's deepest desire is to be approved 
by man. And what exists scattered in the mass of men 
is brought to a focus in this selected intermediary race. 



EMILY BRONTE: 

Each carries with him the memory of a human friend 
transfigured, and all moral codes and material considera- 
tions shrink to nothing by contrast with the immediate 
presence of man. He may be thought insincere, for he 
neither argues nor contradicts, never speaks a distasteful 
truth, promises what he cannot perform, and will discard 
a friend for an unlucky word. Yet through this over- 
value of mankind we see dimly on the outer edge of 
society something of heaven on earth, of the reign of 
love. But always the law holds good that heaven reveals 
itself through the earthly beauty of line and colour : 
and so we end where we began with Leonardo's saying 
of the smiling of women. 

To the opinions of Carlyle and Proust which have 
been the props of this argument we now add a third. 
Professor Bradley described the tragic hero as intense 
rather than extraordinary — as one who thought and acted 
in a manner little removed from the average person but 
more energetically. We admire Antony and Cleopatra, 
for instance, and contemn the politic Octavius and his 
impeccable sister. The modern craving for personality 
has displaced the balance too far from mere good breed- 
ing to the region of despotic will and tempestuous passion. 
Never has the lot of undistinguished people been harder, 
nor the bore more severely let alone. In old days the 
human race was united by the subconscious thought 
of the brotherhood of man ; but now, in our eagerness 
to see the vision before the coming of night, we apply 
widely the mordant remark of Charles Maurras against 
literary egoists, that not everybody has a soul. 

Having rejected the theory that an author's work is 
his best biography, but convinced that the writer of a 
great book has a great soul, and that to learn how this 
soul moved among us in its earthly vestments is to learn 
something of heaven, we pass on to glean what we can 
from Emily's books. And they also strike us, as did 
her life, by other-worldliness, by excess of soul over 
body. She has been called primitive, a descendant of 



THE PROBLEM OF PERSONALITY 

giants and Titans, and so on, but this is not the emotion 
that Wuthering Heights conveys ; she is on the hither 
side of civilization, not before it begins but where it 
ends, and what Carlyle called the dim waste that lies 
beyond creation appears. The wild scenery of Wuther- 
ing Heights, the lonely moors impassable in winter, 
the stony track that leads off the main road to the deserted 
farm, where the slant of the stunted firs and thorns shows 
the force of the north wind, the rude furniture of the 
dwelling, the hard manners of its inmates — all point 
to something far withdrawn from the world we know. 
We are on the pinnacles of the moral world, with its 
restraints and conventions out of sight ; the scene 
is laid in a spot that has not changed since creation, and 
that symbolizes the end of civilization ; and there is 
nothing primitive in the souls of those who act out 
their destinies in these abandoned tracts. We can 
witness to this from our own experience of persons, the 
worst-mannered of whom we often find among the 
oldest European races, who have outlived their civiliza- 
tion, and care neither for art, chivalry nor the graces of 
life, but persist in money-making, as a last tie with 
their dying world. 

As we approach the stern tale, something of at least 
the outlying parts of Emily's mind will be revealed. 
As common traits of the characters we may cite intellec- 
tual vigour and sarcastic speech, such as we might 
expect to find in the Yorkshire farmer or land-worker, 
out of whom Heathcliff was idealized : the effect of a 
keen brain and little education, solitude, hard weather, 
rough work. When old Mr. Earnshaw dies late at 
night, the messenger dispatched for the doctor and 
parson, returns with the doctor and says the parson 
will come in the morning. Heathcliff says sneer- 
ingly that Isabella Linton married him thinking he was 
a hero of romance, and at first none of his brutali- 
ties disgusted her. " I suppose we shall have plenty of 
lamentations now ! " exclaims Catherine when Edgar 



EMILY BRONTE : 

at last realizes the mortal nature of her illness. Catherine 
again is under no illusions as regards her lover ; she 
warns the infatuated Isabella that Heathcliff is a pitiless, 
wolfish man, not the kind who conceals depths of 
benevolence beneath a stern exterior. The above saying 
of Heathcliff leads to a further common trait of Emily's 
characters : their self-consciousness. Catherine speaks 
of turning her fits of frenzy to account ; Linton Heath- 
cliff admits he has a bad nature and cannot be scorned 
enough, and is too mean for the younger Catherine's 
anger ; and many other instances spring to the mind. 
It is the trait which makes Shakespeare's characters 
psychologically real and individual : from Richard III, 
where it shows rather crudely, to the most consummate 
examples of his genius : Hamlet, Iago, Falstaff. 

Like Shakespeare, Scott, Jane Austen, like all the 
most creative artists, Emily's characters become objec- 
tive and self-moved ; the one point of contact with her 
personal nature is sarcasm. But it is a sarcasm bound 
up with intellectual vigour : the power to foresee clearly, 
while others, blinded by mere wishes, are dimly groping 
after truth. Keen untutored brains struggling with 
hard conditions might foster its growth in her models, 
but with Emily the cause was excess of spirit reacting 
on her own powerful mind, making this earth too small 
a point to see realized the thoughts she drew from the 
infinite. The note of Charlotte's writings is regret ; 
Charlotte would have been happy in a full family life, 
in society, in contact with any persons who treated her 
kindly. The tragedy of her life was enforced solitude ; 
whereas Emily, if she ever had worldly desires — and 
we gather from her poems that she had — conquered 
them once and for all. No doubt she grieved deeply 
at the immediate failure of Wuthering Heights^ and she 
resigned further literary work, yet the fact remains that 
the balance is shifted too heavily on the side of soul for 
us to see her as a glorious earthly figure. 

Charlotte describes nature as one who loves the joys 

IO 



THE PROBLEM OF PERSONALITY 

of this world ; the beauty of her landscapes in dawn or 
sunset is heightened by the suggestion from her own 
mind that another day has passed, and her hopes are 
unrealized, and death will come. Also, the love that 
she describes, though transcending time and space, is 
not entirely strange to earth. Most of us when first 
reading Jane Eyre in childhood knew that we were falsely 
told in the concluding chapter that Jane married 
Rochester ; we felt instinctively that the inner truth 
of the story was thereby violated, that the poor human 
institution of marriage was a small thing to two such 
souls wandering in eternity. And yet for a short spell 
they might have been happy on earth : Jane Eyre and 
Rochester at Thornhill, Lucy Snowe and Paul Emanuel 
in the schoolrooms of Villette. It is otherwise with 
Catherine and Heathcliff who, as children on the moors, 
had just a foothold in time, but cannot be imagined 
living together as man and wife even in the extra-con- 
ventional world of the story. But if their love is not of 
earth still less is it of heaven, and we must search for the 
true region where their souls have scope. 

Many writers have attempted to depict a world beyond 
this, and none have succeeded like Emily. Haeckel, 
in the midst of foolish generalizations, did arrest our 
thought when he asked if we realized what we meant by 
eternity, and pointed to the profound legend of the Wan- 
dering Jew. Yet the desire to persist at least beyond this 
world is ineradicable, and Emily speaks in accents that 
convince us a further sphere exists. It comes to us in 
Mr. Lockwood's dream, and not Clarence's dream in 
Richard III, not the weird sisters in Macbeth, not the 
raising of Samuel by the Witch of Endor, have so true 
a ring of an actual experience of the soul. The keynote 
of the dream is subtly struck when sour old Joseph tells 
the younger Catherine that she will never mend her 
ways but go right to the devil like her mother before 
her. It is followed by the discovery of the writing in 
the old book which affects us strangely because we know 

ii 



EMILY BRONTE : 

that the writer has passed behind the veil. Then comes 
the dream : the tapping of the branch on the lattice ; 
the ice-cold hand which seizes the dreamer's ; the 
sobbing voice, " Let me in . . . I'm come home. I'd 
lost my way on the moor " ; the child's face looking 
through the window ; the reiterated cry, " It is twenty 
years . . . I've been a wait for twenty years " ; the 
effect on Heathcliff of sliding back the panels. . . . 

What are the symbols that Emily uses so skilfully as 
to make us believe that this once-removed world exists ? 
In the first place we have the rude setting of the story, 
the point in life where all joyful social intercourse has 
ceased, and human relations are just preserved. It is 
neither primitive nor return to barbarism, but the end 
of a world, the dropping one by one of the refinements 
of life till the soul is naked. The austere moors, the bare 
dwellings typify it ; the coming of a stranger brings 
it home to us, like one of Shakespeare's underplots 
which reflect the main action and add a meaning. Such 
was Hindley Earnshaw's wife who came from no one 
knew where, without name or fortune, the " rush of a 
lass " far advanced in consumption, but who was so 
delighted with the old farm house that she would have 
nothing changed for her comfort, whose gay heart 
never failed her till within a week of her death. Catherine 
said well that she had no more right to marry Edgar 
Linton than to go to heaven, and her dream taught her 
how miserable she would have been in heaven. The 
Linton family does seem an alien presence on the moors, 
and the interior of Thrushcross Grange, into which 
Catherine and Heathcliff gaze spell-bound, with its 
crimson carpet and crimson-covered chairs and white 
and gold ceiling, so remote as almost to be unreal. Here 
again we see Emily's soul stronger than that of Charlotte, 
who described such things with a tinge of regret that 
she too did not live in splendid places and wear rich 
fabrics. Heathcliff's brutality is neither that of the 
savage, the boor, nor the over-civilized man driven mad, 

12 



THE PROBLEM OF PERSONALITY 

and it is truly imagined that he adds avarice to his other 
faults. When he strikes the younger Catherine he 
does the easiest thing to gain his object, because nothing 
else is worth while in a perishing world. The manner 
of his death typifies this world from which life is visibly 
receding. His son would be as cruel as he, but lacks 
the physical strength, and further proves that the 
material frame of things is crumbling before our eyes. 

But if the soul is thus stripped naked, all the more 
urgent is its craving for love. It has attained the 
extreme point of earth, it reaches forward into the abyss 
beyond, it even exchanges messages with those whom 
the abyss has swallowed, and always it cries for love. 
Because of this we feel that the new world, a corner of 
which is mysteriously revealed, is more good than evil. 
That much evil remains — above all the sense of sin for 
earthly deeds — we do not dispute, but that love con- 
tinues and will eventually triumph over sin, is the last 
conviction. Catherine's unrestrained childhood, the 
passionate dispositions of the Earnshaw family, Heath- 
cliff's rough caresses which bruise the arm of his dying 
love — all these are symbols of the ultimate recovery 
of the spirit. Edgar Linton finds comfort in books 
after his wife's death, Hindley Earnshaw, in the same 
condition, becomes a gambler and raving drunkard. 
Because the soul is a real thing its conflict with gross 
matter is terrible : such was Hindley's unreasoning 
persecution of Heathcliff as a boy. While on earth it 
may appear worsted in its conflict with evil, but Emily 
has power to convince that the decision is elsewhere. 
The device of the Greek chorus has been a favourite one 
with playwright or novelist ; it here finds an unparalleled 
exponent in the character of Nelly Dean. Catherine 
confides her spiritual affinity with Heathcliff to be met 
with the retort : " If I can make any sense of your 

nonsense, Miss ." As with Thersites in Troilus 

and Cressida, or Apemantus in Tirnon, her very blindness 
to the wonderland of Catherine's soul must flash some- 

13 



EMILY BRONTE : 

thing of its glory upon the dullest reader. And always 
the outer symbol of these storms of the mind is Wuthering 
Heights itself, the mere shell of a home thrust away 
from neighbourly kindnesses on its sterile promontory. 

Turning from her novel to ask whether her poems will 
supply the image of an earthly-heavenly creature, again 
the answer is negative. The balance may be shifted a 
stage back towards earth, but is still not equal. One 
cannot but hear the cry of the heart in Remembrance, 
but there is no means of knowing the proportion of real 
and ideal. Let us however recall a few of her best pieces 
and brood over their distinctive charm. Such are The 
Linnet, The Prisoner, The Lady to Her Guitar, How 
Clear She Shines, Often Rebuked, The Outcast Mother, 
The Old Stoic, and the poem already mentioned. Take 
the last stanza of The Linnet : 

Blow, west wind, by the lonely mound, 

And murmur, summer streams — 
There is no need of other sound 

To soothe my lady's dreams. 

And this from The Lady to Her Guitar : 

It is as if the glassy brook 

Should image still its willows fair, 
Though years ago the woodman's stroke 

Laid low in dust their Dryad-hair. 

And place beside them these lines from Wordsworth's 
Highland Reaper : 

A voice more thrilling ne'er was heard 

In springtime from the cuckoo bird, 

Breaking the silence of the seas 

Among the furthest Hebrides. 

And this stanza of Mr. de la Mare's, the effect of snow 
on fields at break of day : 

It hangs the frozen bough 
With flowers on which the night 
Wheeling her darkness through 
Scatters a starry light. 

14 



THE PROBLEM OF PERSONALITY 

Differ as may the poet of fairy-land from the poet who, 
beginning with the beauty of nature, thereafter includes 
man, and so rises to believe in a divinely ordered universe, 
they are one in this : their vision of beauty has brought 
them peace on earth. It is not so with Emily who, 
though rivalling them in beauty, is at peace only with 
nature and not with man. The greatest poets carry 
with them an ideal world which is proof against intruders : 
thus William Blake, greater of course as mystic than 
poet, met and saluted the Apostle Paul in the Strand. 
Emily falls short of supreme greatness in that she is muted 
by a trespasser in her imaginative Eden. The earth 
must be delivered from man's presence before she can 
recognize it as Godlike ; she is inspired by night, — 
especially winter nights, when human activity is sus- 
pended for many long hours, or starry nights which 
suggest remote worlds where perhaps sin is not, — by 
the barest tracts of the moors where no house can resist 
the wind, by snow which muffles human footsteps and 
masks human traces, by time and death which defeat 
man, and make his mightiest happenings — his battles 
and empires, his material progress, the voices of orators, 
even the cry of sufferers — a momentary break in the 
eternal silence. 

In this shrinking from her fellow-creatures, in their 
power to shatter her bright world by their mere presence, 
lay Emily's weakness. Yet she is stronger than Char- 
lotte, who depended utterly on others, and whose con- 
sistent regret for lost happiness sounds in her every 
page. Had we biographical means to know whether 
this trait was inborn or developed by circumstances, 
much of the mystery of her personality would be solved. 
She confesses in her poems to a fleeting desire for fame, 
and such a stanza as this from Remembrance has an 
authentic ring : 

But when the days of golden dreams had perished, 
And even despair was powerless to destroy, 

Then did I learn how existence could be cherished, 
Strengthened and fed without the aid of joy. 

*5 



EMILY BRONTE 

But so have many of Shakespeare's sonnets, over which 
the battle between evenly-matched commentators has 
swayed backward and forward for generations. Suffice 
it that if from the internal evidence of her novel and 
poems we have realized more clearly what she was not, 
some slight advance has been made toward conceiving 
an image of her personality despite a forcedly agnostic 
conclusion. 



16 



iC 



The Sarthly Taradise " 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

IT was a cherished belief of childhood that the 
Garden of Eden still existed, that it would be 
possible to journey to the spot and approach as near 
as the beam of the fiery sword allowed ; perhaps even 
like Cain in Byron's tragedy to linger before the gates 
at twilight to catch a glimpse of the gardens. Great 
was the child's disillusion to learn that the Garden had 
long since vanished and only vague tradition pointed 
to the site. The belief was recalled by the saying of a 
British soldier in Mesopotamia during the Great War : 
that if this unpleasant place was Paradise, Adam and 
Eve were justified in committing any sin to escape 
from it. Something like these mental processes will 
appear in our appreciation of literature. The student 
brought up on the Classics and thinking their fame 
to be as strongly founded as the earth he treads on, 
will shudder at the first blast of what has been called 
Leslie Stephen's east wind. He will be told that some- 
thing of the mildew of time is creeping over the Waverley 
Novels, that even Shakespeare had a message for his 
audiences which has not reached us, that out of a hundred 
books that have survived the centuries about ninety- 
nine have lost their freshness. We might supplement 
these statements by examples such as William Hayley, 
esteemed a great poet in his lifetime, now remembered 
by the accident that he was Cowper's friend. The 
three stages are thus made clear : what once appeared 
an enchanted domain is forbidden by the fiery sword 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

of the critic ; and a latter-day public, typified by the 
sardonic soldier, denies that a Paradise existed. 

From Leslie Stephen's favourite east wind we will 
take refuge in the milder climate of Pater. He instances 
from Gaston the special effect of contemporary poetry 
on sensitive youth, crystallizing the truant and irregular 
poetry of his own nature, and, because it was the latest 
achievement of the human soul in this matter, having 
the advantage of a personal presence. This brings us 
to our reason for selecting The Earthly Paradise as 
representing Morris at his best. Duly deferring to those 
critics who claim for The Defence of Guenevere a special 
charm which Morris never afterwards recaptured ; 
who are impressed by the mighty figures of Sigurd ; 
who discover some of his most beautiful work in Poems 
by the Way, we will none the less adhere to our choice. 
We will even better our instruction by eliminating the 
more elaborated second half, which includes The Lovers 
of Gudrun, and we will subdivide still further by select- 
ing Jason, The Prologue, and the first four Greek stories 
only as expressing all that was good in Morris's nature. 
Time will prove the critics right, and our favourites may 
be the first to fall like ripe fruit, for only style can make 
the ship of song weatherproof as it sails the ocean of 
eternity, and these poems lack the final hardening touch. 
It behoves us all the more, while a gap of years still 
shows in the century since Morris was born, before 
the language has turned the corner, to remember Pater's 
saying and recapture in our souls some of the happiness 
overflowing from his. The western gate of Eden 
facing the sunset is still open and we can enter the 
blessed confine. Time may be when the critics will 
advance their fiery sword and forbid us all approach. 

We will first note about Morris that, unlike the typical 
poet, he was well at ease upon earth. Life has been 
defined by biologists as the continuous adjustment of 
internal relations to external, and the same is true of 
mental life ; therefore to have imagination in excess 

20 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

hinders the mind from responding rhythmically to the 
fact. Perhaps the higher interest of a poet's life lies in 
this ill response : the unhappy marriage, the ruptured 
friendship, the wasted affection, the disappointed hopes ; 
and because Morris impressed his imagination to serve 
the fact, his life may lack this higher interest. However, 
we doubt not that he would rather have lived happily 
than have left a name to point a moral or adorn a tale ; 
and if he lived happily it was because he succeeded in 
externalizing his emotions. Only in his Homeric rages, 
and one other more notable thing to which we shall 
attend later, do we discover a personality transcending 
his daily occupations. He retained through life the friend- 
ships of his youth, and yet he is said not to have been 
an intense friend. The ugly Victorian age revolted him, 
but instead of merely lamenting, he founded a decora- 
tive art to bring beauty to the dwellings of the humblest. 
He felt keenly the injustice of the social order and the 
sufferings of the poor, and he became an active Socialist. 
He was a tremendous worker, often exceeding nine or 
ten hours a day in his task of weaving or dyeing or 
printing. His biographer observes that after his death 
the great difficulty was to realize his absence from the 
things which he had loved so well, " from his books 
and manuscripts, from his vats and looms, from the 
grey gabled house and the familiar fields.' ' Even his 
poetic imagination was stayed by the mountains of 
Iceland ; and that he was more impressed by his 
second visit proves that his mind had not worked in the 
interval and produced vast shapes beyond reality, as would 
have been the case with poets like Shelley or Coleridge, 
the seed of whose imagination was in themselves. Only 
we note that at Kelmscott he took a solitary walk, wet or 
fine, when his day's work was concluded. Otherwise 
he was not a lonely man ; his mind did not make 
innumerable returns upon itself ; and with one excep- 
tion he found things in the outer world to correspond 
with its movements. 

21 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

An exception there was, for Morris was above all 
a poet, and he conquered the world by his imagination. 
He was haunted by the fear of death, and to this flight 
of the mind into a region beyond fact is due his greatest 
poetry. That we wish to escape death, and yet it is death 
which makes life sweet — this is the riddle he could not 
solve, as all his critics have pointed out. The worldly- 
busy man does not usually concern himself much with the 
thought of death ; the piers of his life-bridge are set 
firmly in the river bed of fact ; unlike him who walks 
the airy suspension bridge of art between birth and death. 
And yet even here, as we saw with his decorative and 
Socialistic efforts, the final result will be practical. 
There are means by which man becomes immortal in 
the flesh, and art is one ; but what is implicit in all art 
is explicit in the art of Morris. W. H. Hudson affirmed, 
in his delicate youth, that he could have forgotten the fear 
were he assured of at least another thirty years of life ; 
and he and others have remarked that such fears do not 
visit persons of strong body and active habits. Were 
it merely a matter of pursuing business or pleasure to 
forget the evil thought, we should gain little : hence 
the pathos of Dr. Johnson's saying that not one of the 
brilliant crowd whom he saw at Ranelagh would dare 
to go home and think. Our object is to be rid of fear, 
for fear prevents happiness, and happiness rightly used 
expands the soul : a happy man least fears death, as wit- 
ness Othello's immortal words on landing at Cyprus. 
The past is beautiful because, as we look back upon our 
lives circle within circle, fear is withdrawn. It is other- 
wise with the unfilled circle of the present where the cares 
of the world prevent us from finding in beautiful earthly 
things symbols of heaven. We will endeavour to show 
how Morris used his art to make man conscious that 
he is immortal, and restore to him for a moment the 
finer life he lived in one of those completed circles of the 
past. 

We selected as his most typical work The Life and 

22 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

Death of Jason, originally intended to be part of The 
Earthly Paradise, The Prologue and the first four Greek 
stories : Atalantas Race, The Doom of King Acrisius, 
Cupid and Psyche, and The hove of Alcestis. It is one 
of the literary paradoxes that such simple art, at so late 
an hour, should have captured the public ; for the 
public naturally suspects a late worker in simple things, 
and turns rather to the head of the centuries — to The 
Canterbury Tales or The Faerie Queene — for its narrative 
poetry. Morris worked no miracles with language — 
he deals in well-worn rhymes and metres — and his 
characters are but slightly individualized. He was no 
psychologist like Browning, no consummate jeweller like 
Tennyson, and he did not, like Swinburne or Baudelaire, 
so use the sound of words as to suggest the dream- 
emotions of the soul. The ebb of the romantic tide had 
long set in, and critics and prose-writers were at work 
upon the land reclaimed from the sea. Wordsworthians 
apologized for admiring The Prelude and The Task, and 
superior persons pronounced Byron's romances and 
Childe Harold affected, and only praised him as a satiric 
and therefore second-rate poet. The highest mood of 
the soul wrought in gold or ivory by the finest graving- 
tool of the artist became the law. 

And yet Morris placed in the Temple of Art vessels 
of gold not wholly refined from ore, and the god received 
them. Let us briefly turn over the pages of our favourites 
and appreciate the emotion lying at their roots. In 
Jason it is the love of Jason and Medea — defining the 
conditions under which man holds his lease of happiness 
from the gods — that partly re-illumines a thrice-told 
tale. We do get effects characteristic of Morris that he 
will repeat more strongly in Sigurd — such as the flight 
of Argo through the Symplegades, or the stroke of her 
iron beak which splits asunder the ship of Absyrtus : 
it is when man sets the forces of nature to work and 
looks on wondering or trembling at the mighty recoil. 
But in the speech of Circe to Medea we see the soul of 

23 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

Morris gleaming through the story's old brocade. That 
man may die without love makes even more remote that 
outer ocean which rings the world, into which Argo is 
driven, and more horrible the abyss down which her 
crew fear she may fall. It transforms Medea from a 
sorceress to a woman, and, when Jason betrays her, 
gives her the power to destroy her rival and even her 
own children. 

Of The Prologue it may be said that the external 
adventures are not wholly subdued to the emotional 
tone. The two persist side by side, and the reader's 
attention oscillates between the vivid touches of mediaeval 
imagery and the wistful spiritual refrain. Of the 
former we may cite the King with the falcon on his wrist 
and the scrivener to make notes for him ; the impene- 
trable woods on which axes scarcely make an impression, 
and where the vision of a dragon's head is hurriedly 
seen ; the need to await a breeze to land ; the mystery 
of what lies beyond the mountains ; the people who 
speak strange tongues ; the " crock of copper " and 
many another old-world phrase ; the strange pageant 

of armour and altars and barbarous customs All 

this is a means of escape for the spirit from our law- 
bound, exactly surveyed world, with its telegraphs amd 
steamboats, its smoke-blurred cities and the ravaged 
beauty of its countryside, and, worst of all, the ruined 
souls of its money-hunting inhabitants. And yet, when 
the deeper note is struck, it never fails to thrill through 
the reader's soul, and diminish the mere external adven- 
tures by contrast with the strange object of the quest. 
Witness the following lines where the Wanderers think 
they have attained the desired land : 

Old faces still reproached us : " We are gone, 
And ye are entering into bliss alone ; 
And can ye now forget ? Year passes year, 
And still ye live on joyous, free from fear ; 
But where are we ? " 



24 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

Atalantas Race is one of the most beautiful of the 
stories, but even more than Jason, it is pictorially beauti- 
ful ; we delight more in the images that pass before our 
eyes than sorrow for the lost happiness of those who have 
failed in the race and fallen beneath the sword. Only 
we note how immediately Venus appears to Milanion 
in answer to his prayer — as a contrast to what has been 
called the inexorable silence of God in our modern 
world. 

King Acrisius gives the same strange adventures as 
The Prologue, also inclining to the bizarre, — as the giants 
whom Perseus encounters upon the Libyan plain and 
overcomes with the Gorgon's head ; the same easy 
intercourse between God and man, — but we see the 
tide rising of that craving of the heart to become im- 
mortal on earth — which had driven the Wanderers 
forth — now applied to the master-subject of these stories 
— love. It begins with Danae's lament as she wanders 
through the chambers of the brazen tower, and grows 
more intense when she herself is immured there. It 
is the homesickness of those who have lost the world 
and did not suspect how beautiful it was. But when 
Perseus woos Andromeda upon the shore, we return 
to the mood of Jason and Medea : how love alone 
can create in the individual heart that new world 
which the Wanderers have vainly sought over so many 
seas. 

If the interest in The Prologue and King Acrisius is dual, 
this defect — if defect it is — is remedied in Cupid and 
Psyche, All the beauties of the piece are disposed in 
circles round the heart-hunger of the central figure. 
We may even wonder that Cupid seeks for his beloved 
a godlike immortality, for this earth is so dressed as to 
appear a true pattern of heaven. As the narrative 
proceeds the emotion becomes acuter, and Psyche as a 
bride is less lovely than Psyche seeking her lost love- 
and enduring the tasks of the angry Venus. Her 
journey to the underworld will recur to us later, but 

25 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

meanwhile we note that the story expands into the 
culminating effort of Morris's art, The Love of Alcestis. 
Here not only do the gods hear the prayers of man 
and accept his sacrifices, but live with him as a brother 
or comrade ; they aid him to attain love on earth, and 
would give him immortal life if they could. Morris's 
genius culminates in this piece, for it completes what 
The Prologue began. That which the Wanderers set 
out to seek is here made the subject of the story ; the 
two streams meet, and henceforth they part. The 
reader knows he can approach no nearer to the heart 
of the mystery, and his interest declines. 

For it must be remembered that the setting of the 
tales is as important as the tales themselves, and as we 
listen we must keep in mind's eye the Elders and 
Wanderers who tell them. Be it remembered also 
that the stories are told, not read, and we should endeav- 
our to hear the voice and its changes as the images pass 
before us. And the subjects are related to the grand 
adventure in the lives of these Wanderers or modern 
Argonauts : their quest after another and still fairer 
Golden Fleece. Not only they, but men in all ages, 
because this earth is beautiful, have wished to be at home 
on it for ever, or to attain that state of mind where they 
believe that such things can be. Only love can bring 
it to a man alone, but to the Wanderers no longer young, 
and travel-weary, companionship can still do something : 
as we know from the cruder instance of those whom 
Dr. Johnson pitied. Each as a solitary might smile 
incredibly and indulge in Hamlet-like musings, but 
among his fellows, amid the flowing tides of rhythm, 
and with golden fancies passing before the mind's eye, 
he is immortal and divine. 

And this emotion, not confined to the page but over- 
flowing it, is the distinctive one of The Earthly Paradise. 
We are conscious of the magic circle of Elders and 
Wanderers with the wonderlight in their eyes, and we 
reflect that we too have our friends and would like to 

26 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

share this happiness with them. The lyric poet is 
best read in solitude ; and it is only thus that we can 
admire to the full the Virgilian diction of Tennyson, 
or the miracles worked in rhyme and metre by Swin- 
burne, and catch the last echoes of their harmonies in 
our remoter mind. Or if we speak of them it is to 
quote selected passages, which we rarely do with The 
Earthly Paradise. With these stories it is the whole 
that concerns, not necessarily in the poet's own words 
but in the emotion they give off. They were spoken 
to an audience, and the effect is as when we gaze into 
one of two opposing mirrors, and see our own image 
in a receding line, till reflections of reflections dwindle 
to nothing in the long perspective. We all carry with 
us an imaginary world of Elders and Wanderers to 
whom we long to confide the good news of a younger 
world when gods lived with men. Morris has made 
this world real to us, and the distinction is that when 
we speak of it or explain it to others, it does not lose 
its magic as beautiful things do when exposed to the light 
of day. The emotion is an artistic-social one which 
grows with telling. 

If we read these stories singly, apart from their 
framework, we miss their essential purpose. Other 
poets have surpassed Morris as story tellers ; he has 
added nothing new to familiar legends ; and he has not 
adorned Greek art like Keats or Tennyson or Swin- 
burne. And yet, even though it has been pointed out 
that he is more mediaeval than Greek in spirit, the 
emotion is due to the beauty which we distinctively 
associate with ancient Greece. The familiar names of 
the gods, the genial climate, the islands, the blue seas, 
the white temples, pass before our eyes and contrast 
with our hideous modern life. Thus, having fixed 
the mood by striking the old chord in the memory, 
Morris compels us to accept collectively what singly 
we might not do — the imaginative truth of his stories. 
We gaze at the rapt faces of his circle, we know the 

27 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

thoughts of his listeners — that they yearn, as all men do, 
for the return of a golden age, for a simpler and more 
beautiful world where gods lived with men — in fact, 
to be immortal here on earth. 

And this emotion, that rather glides from the sur- 
face of the mind if experienced in solitude, finds its way 
to the deep places when shared with others. Instead 
of growing thinner, as emotion does when spoken of, 
it is heightened by exchange with other minds : and 
this power of endlessly reproducing their own images 
is peculiar in poetry to these few stories. From watch- 
ing the effect imaginatively on the Elders and Wander- 
ers, we long to tell our own living circle how such things 
chanced in Morris's ideal world. We wish other minds 
to work on scenes as where the kind god pitied Admetus 
because he had to die, — and when he left Pherae some- 
thing of his spirit remained with Admetus, so that men 
thought the golden age had come again, — and when 
Admetus summoned him to his deathbed he appeared, 
not like a god, but in the same dress as when he kept 
the herds, wearing the same homespun coat and carrying 
the bow in his hand and the quiver slung over his 
shoulder. Or how Psyche in the hall of Proserpine 
felt the spell of death around her and doubted whether 
she cared to return for a few short years to the 
living world, till the goddess warned her to take 
the casket and begone because her eyes were growing 
strange. 

When The Love of Alcestis is concluded, the peak of 
beauty is passed, and the reader travels downward 
regretting much that has gone before. The stories 
interleaved between the first four Greek stories gain 
something from their position : like the Falstaff scenes 
in Henry IV they rest the reader's mind amid the great 
national happenings of the play. But with Alcestis the 
two streams meet, and thenceforth they part, so that the 
reader is alone with the stories that follow. The social 
virtue of their predecessors has gone out of them, and 

28 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

the reader, as he follows the stream of narrative, no 
longer hears the comments of those who sail what was 
the companion Prologue stream, which has now mean- 
dered miles away over the forsaken country. This is 
not to reflect on the stories themselves, that have been 
praised by some critics above the earlier ones. There is 
a pathos, so far not attained, in The Land East of the Sun 
and West of the Moon, Aslaug, in the story that bears 
her name, is a more vivid individual figure — but she is 
alone in her world. And such a lonely world is that of 
the greatest of all, where Morris's epic manner begins : 
The hovers of Gudrun. There indeed we see a human 
heart isolated in a land of rocks, surrounded by the 
untaught, and divided from civilization by green 
wintry seas, so that love is the one relief. Hence the 
reader hopes that love may be enjoyed, and as the 
temptation to break plighted troth looms darkly, his 
fears grow tense with agony, and he foresees the inevit- 
able wreck of happiness and life. 

From Gudrun dropped the seed that took root in good 
soil and bore fruit a hundred fold in Sigurd ; but this 
work has been extravagantly praised of late years. It 
elevates human beings through the natural scenes in 
which their lot is cast, but fails in cumulative interest 
because the centre of interest is not the individual and 
not wholly his actions, but rather the circumstances 
under which actions are performed. The stupendous 
scenes exalt the persons into fellowship with them, 
so that the work of their hands is fitly compared to fire 
or frost or thunder. The interest ebbs and flows accord- 
ing as they engage in adventures which suggest like- 
nesses with the roll of the seasons or the features of a 
land untimely ripped from chaos. The white sword 
of Sigurd is " still as the moon/' and the throne of King 
Gripir " a chair of the sea-beast's tooth." So huge are 
the mountains that " the floor of heaven was mingled 
with the tossing world of stone." 

This last line gives us pause, and we have already 

29 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

noted that Morris was more impressed by his second 
visit to Iceland. Compare these lines of Milton : 

Beyond this flood a frozen continent 

Lies dark and wild, beat with perpetual storm 

Of whirlwind and dire hail. 

And now consider another of Morris's lines, from a 
passage describing the precipices of a distant mountain 
range : 

And lower yet are the hollows striped down by the scanty green. 

From this and the above line we deduce that Morris 
actually saw such sights in Iceland and retained them in 
his memory ; and that his mind had not wandered 
from the time he saw the object to the time he recorded 
it in verse ; whereas Milton's lines refer to no one thing, 
but are compounded of many effects, seen and read of, 
unconsciously refined through years of reverie and 
dream. And while Milton gave his whole life to 
Paradise Lost, Morris composed Sigurd in little more 
than a year. 

We have dwelt upon Sigurd because it illustrates 
most clearly that Morris worked with his memory, and 
that out of his memory he gave us what is sublime in 
Sigurd and wistful in The Earthly Paradise, Critics 
have observed that his imagination was homesick for 
another age, and in his youth he took refuge in Mediaeval- 
ism from the hideous world about him. In later years 
he visited Iceland, and that satisfied his craving for 
external beauty on the grander scale, so that he reproduced 
it as it was. But from the earlier spiritually-realized 
life of the Middle Ages sprang the peculiar emotion 
of The Earthly Paradise that does not fade when it is 
spoken of. When old friends meet they speak of the 
past, and memories that were growing faint in the 
individual live again, and the more there are to share 
them, the more objectively real do they seem. Memory, 

30 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

like art, is concrete, and sharers of a common past suggest 
the emotion by recalling the time worn things of home 
and small material accidents — we noted how the god 
reappeared garbed as a herdsman — till the half faith 
of each member of the circle produces a whole faith, 
while the circle endures, in that earthly-heavenly im- 
mortality which love and friends and art and beautiful 
houses and gardens, and dawn and sunset, and the 
seasons, promise to man in health but withdraw in 
sickness. 

For all its splendour, Sigurd is like a literary exercise 
because the emotions were felt by the mature man and 
reproduced by the perfected craftsman ; they had not 
grown with his growth and reached back to an idyllic 
past, as did those of The Earthly Paradise to the days 
of childhood when he rode about Epping Forest in 
toy armour and fancied himself a knight errant. The 
basis of poetry is refined emotion, and as Morris, unlike 
most poets, could externalize his emotions and dwell 
much at ease on earth, his art suffered, for the mind 
needs two recoils from fact. Sigurd marks one recoil, 
the chosen stories of The Earthly Paradise that second 
and further recoil into the land of memory. For 
memory visited the shores of Morris like the Gulf 
Stream, and made genial weather in a northern 
clime. 

We do wrong to regard life as a material thing, for man, 
while on earth, is a spirit, and already half immortal. 
He has never accepted the argument that we do wrong 
to knit human ties too closely because death will rend 
them, nor consoled himself for misfortune by reflecting 
that in a hundred years he and all about him will have 
quitted the stage. When himself about to die, his 
thoughts are still busy with the affairs of this world, not 
the next ; and when his nearest die, he grieves like 
fallen Lucifer. The past is the only heaven he knows, 
and for this reason, bereaved persons do well to seclude 
themselves from the world, because those who feel the 

3* 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

taint of mortality are not fit companions for immortals. 
But when he loves, or finds a friend, or reads the written 
words, or surveys the painted canvas, or hears the 
musical strains, of a master, he becomes wholly im- 
mortal in the present. Morris has achieved this effect 
by uniting art and love and friendship more consciously 
than other writers ; and his lines gain in beauty as they 
pass from mind to mind. The mountains of his horizon 
look blue some scores of miles nearer than those which 
only distance glorifies. He has given the soul a double 
reminder — to use the old Platonic phrase — of its pre- 
natal home. And mental progress — despite the Freu- 
dians — consists in working the broken tracks on the 
unconscious mind into straight Roman roads. 

And so because Cupid loved Psyche, and Apollo was 
tender with Admetus, we feel, as we read or even explain, 
a stronger link with our own friend or beloved, and the 
emotion returns with tidal rhythm — through the inter- 
mediary listening circle — to heighten our interest in the 
story. But Aslaug and Gudrun and Rhodope are lonely 
women, for though their fortunes move us, we turn the 
page and forget. For after the Watersmeet of Alcestts 
the two streams diverge, and despite the exquisite 
linking stanzas, the voices on the narrative stream 
scarcely carry to The Prologue stream. The country has 
grown bleaker, and here again is the obstinately recurring 
simile of Mesopotamia, the seat of Paradise, with which 
our inquiry opened. But if we shrink from attempting 
the bleaker country, let it not be thought that we wish 
to anticipate future generations and unbuild our Para- 
dise. No : we will yet linger on the banks of the two 
streams, like those in Morris's own magical song : 

Drawn from the purple hills afar, 
Drawn down unto the restless sea. 

We cannot withdraw the former caution that these 
stories may be defeated of their immortality through 
lack of the firmest art-control ; but we will thankfully 

32 



"THE EARTHLY PARADISE" 

note that Morris, who lived a happy life, was happy 
in the end, for the fear left him as it did Dr. Johnson 
at the last. It was Jowett who once wrote beautifully, 
that Nature, like a kind nurse or mother, puts us to sleep 
without frightening us. 



33 



The Heart of the Wessex ${ove/s 



THE HEART OF THE WESSEX NOVELS 

THE latest movements of Hardy in the world of 
letters have diverted public attention from those 
which first brought him fame. Readers preoccupied 
with the Dynasts and the various collections of poems, 
run the risk of forgetting the message of beauty which 
he first delivered. Confronted with Hardy's formal 
creed of pessimism, we need to remind ourselves that 
it is the artist's duty to suggest rather than assert, — 
that the thought which the brain conceives must pass 
through his soul before it can reach the world, and 
that many a true artist — like him of whom we speak — 
will convert, at the eleventh hour, and like Balaam in 
spite of himself, his curse to a blessing. 

It will therefore not be amiss to restate the beauties 
of the Wessex novels, since it is on a basis of beauty 
that Hardy's philosophy and so-called pessimism have 
been built. The greatest living national master of 
fiction, he stands in the direct line reaching back 
through Meredith to George Eliot, and thence through 
Dickens, Thackeray, and the Brontes, to Scott and 
Jane Austen, and, further still, through Goldsmith, 
to Fielding and Smollett, Richardson and Defoe, the 
creators of the modern novel. The sound of these 
names recalls to the reader a special manner or grand 
characteristic : how wide apart is the satire of Fielding 
and Jane Austen, the passion of George Eliot and 
Charlotte Bronte ! Hardy's great achievement is having 
carried to a successful conclusion the revolution initiated 

37 



THE HEART OF 

by the Brontes : he has transformed the content of the 
novel from prose to poetry. There have been poetical 
novels before his time, but not novels which are poems. 
In Wuthering Heights and portions of Jane Eyre, the 
novel so far exceeded its primal objects of portraying 
character or manners or telling a story, as to produce 
in the reader a strange emotion from interacting characters 
and scenes. But even in the first of these two books 
there was much to be contributed by the reader from 
his common experience with the author. Hardy has 
gone a stage further from the real world and subjected 
his readers to a definite vision, differing from his pre- 
decessors as the prose writer who uses words and relies 
on their total approximate effect from association of 
ideas, differs from the poet who mobilises to the full the 
resources of every word. 

The territories created by the great masters enumer- 
ated, like Caesars gardens, have been bequeathed to 
the whole population, and at all hours of the day we 
may walk in them and recreate ourselves. But Caesar's 
gardens were on this side Tiber, whereas the paler 
lands of Hardy lie beyond to the far horizon, and are 
best seen from a distance by eyes into which the three 
magic drops have been distilled. Something of the 
poetic meditation which has gone to make them must 
be renewed by a truly appreciative reader. How the 
outer world has gradually receded in literature we 
may judge from the very greatest. When Achilles 
speeds across the plain against Troy, he appears " blazing 
as the star that cometh forth at harvest time." When 
Claudio ponders the destiny of the soul, he imagines 
a " thrilling region of thick-ribbed ice." In Homer 
the images are more like parallel rivers of thought than 
tributaries of the main stream : in Shakespeare they 
are directly produced by the mental agony. In Homer 
they exist independently of the mind, to recall to the 
reader that beautiful world of sense which justified the 
outer existence of the Greek. 

38 



THE WESSEX NOVELS 

The modern imaginative writer, then, does not 
venture out into the world, but resembles a dweller in 
those mountain caves each of which leads back to another, 
so that no man may discover their end. If his voice 
is inward that of his successor will be more so, as he 
retreats further into the bowels of the mountain. Or, 
to change the metaphor, as gold will not coin without 
alloy, so did his thought once require an admixture of 
sensible objects known to the thought of others ; but 
every generation reduces the measure of alloy, till we 
now see him struggling in solitude to shape the pure 
gold of his idea. 

To say that the half-dozen greater novels of Hardy 
are far from the real world, and that he does not help 
us to recreate his characters by appealing to a common 
stock of experience, is not intended to deny their truth 
to life. The most real thing is emotion, and the effect 
of the Wessex novels is to kindle a particular emotion. 
They are like a dream which, when its outer events are 
forgotten, lingers in the form of emotion surpassing in 
haunting-power that of our waking hours : more 
especially when it revives memories of a happy past in 
days of present sorrow. For when man's bodily activi- 
ties are suspended, his soul recovers its gigantic power 
to experience, and, troubled in its mortal foldings, is 
made home-sick for a perfection that cannot be attained 
on earth. Hardy's vision of beauty is therefore a dream, 
the emotion from which is stronger than that thrown off 
from his waking hours of pessimism. 

But as there are dreams of more or less beauty, so it 
is with the Wessex novels, and our object is to appreciate 
in them those qualities which exalt them to the perfect 
dream world, and reject foreign elements which debase 
them to waking life. Judging by this standard, we 
would give first place to the Return of the Native^ which, 
though eclipsed in parts by Tess and Jude y best follows 
the course of an unbroken dream, and leaves behind a 
more single emotion. It is eclipsed by parts of Tess 

39 



THE HEART OF 

because its prevailing tone is sombre, and Hardy is at 
his best when describing the joy of life, no matter how 
soon to disappear, — but it surpasses as an artistic whole. 
Its great catastrophe, the death of Mrs. Yeobright, 
affects the reader to its full, without wrenching the 
fabric of the story like the death of Tess. The world 
presented is the ancient one where all memories are 
centred in earth, the common mother, and all characters 
modified thereby, but the joys of innocence are gone. 
The outer world, built by the deliberate design of self- 
conscious man, exists, but it does not do violence to the 
structure like the characters of Alec d'Urberville or 
Edred Fitzpiers. It is emotionally present in the mind 
of Eustacia Vye isolated on Egdon Heath, making 
Budmouth seem a Paradise to her, and a man from Paris 
like a messenger from heaven. Its pool-like shallowness 
compared to the ocean-depth of inherited memories 
and customs is exemplified in Clym Yeobright who, 
on his return, easily throws off the veneer of modern 
cities. But it is the heath itself which refines and exalts 
the emotion by the previous effect upon the character of 
its vast dark spaces unresponsive to the moonlight, its 
loneliness, its steadfastness, its great age. It is finely 
imagined that Clym, when nearly blind, should retire 
to Alderworth, and another dark stretch of the unknown 
be opened up. It extends the mystery of the heath into 
remoter circles of dreamland, and gives to the episode 
of the furze-cutting, with the visit of Mrs. Yeobright 
in the torrid heat of afternoon, the effect of a dream 
within a dream. But although the sounds from the 
outer world are not loud enough to break the magic 
ring of sleep, they suffice to make the sleeper turn 
uneasily. For, as a child may have a sudden foreboding 
of the cares and sorrows of age and the coming of death, 
so did nature, when the world was young, fashion 
these swarthy monotonies against times that should 
no longer be fair. Solitude, despair, brooding melan- 
choly, are the human moods which the heath reflects, 

40 



THE WESSEX NOVELS 

and intensifies by its interaction with character, so that 
we must look further for the full unfolding of Hardy's 
powers. 

Under primitive conditions, before the days of town 
life and education, Hardy maintains there was an appe- 
tite for joy and zest for existence. If man had been 
content to draw his daily sustenance from nature and 
spend his leisure in communion with her, he would have 
remained happy : but he preferred to snatch at what he 
thought a higher knowledge, to think of the future, to 
abandon nature for man, to create conventions and an 
artificial way of thinking. These are the clouds that 
appear singly or mass thickly upon the skies of Tess, — 
otherwise the fairest in the world of fiction. The 
Native, though a faultless dream, was never many fathoms 
below the waking level, and its beauty was shot through 
with cares assimilated from the outer world. Tess is 
composed of separate dreams, and though they are 
broken up by discordant sounds, while they endure 
their beauty is of the kind that suspends hell and ravishes 
the thronging audience. It is a beauty created by 
Hardy's sympathy with all that is good in the peasant's 
life and character, refined by its passage through the 
soul of one who, while preserving unchanged his earliest 
love for the earth, has travelled far mentally and explored 
the thought and literature of many countries and ages. 
To him knowledge has not brought distaste for primitive 
pleasures and scorn for unlettered people : it has made 
his love greater by making his sensibilities more exquisite. 
It is in his agnosticism — common to the leading minds 
of the last half of the nineteenth century — that we find 
the disharmony. For the Christian idea, and the concep- 
tion of this world as a transitory place, is not one that 
can be discharged from the subconscious mind. Hence 
we feel the hand falter as it depicts the pagan pleasures 
of the villagers and their self-adoration. Like the 
fears of the brave and follies of the wise, there is 
the home-sickness of the advanced mind that will not 

4i 



THE HEART OF 

conceive of this world as the pattern of a diviner one. 

Therefore, except in rarest moments, when the 
blending of earth and seasons and human emotions 
fulfils the reader's vision, there is joy on a basis of 
apprehension. The green and golden fields, the old 
forest trees with Druidical mistletoe, the azure land- 
scapes, are beautiful but lonely in their beauty. A 
time may come when the human mind, preoccupied with 
the future and enslaved by social conventions, will turn 
from them even more completely than it does now. Thus 
the impression grows that the days of joy are numbered, 
the shadow is growing, and the beauty of earth may perish 
like the physical beauty overrun by thought. 

In Tess we hear every stop sounded of that complex 
modern instrument of thought and emotion. We 
experience the deepest dream of all where joy prevails 
unchecked, we traverse the middle region of joy on a 
basis of apprehension, and we are summoned to the 
outer world by sounds of terrifying discord. 

In the Native the dream was unbroken though less 
deep because its sombre background remembered an 
outer world no longer fair : less deep than in parts of 
Tess where the sun and moon stand still in some Ajalon 
of the human spirit. The world of Jude is outside the 
dream, but the memory of it is the charm of the book. 
If Jude and Sue behave imprudently in the real world 
of to-day, it is because they belong to the ideal past and 
import some of its beauty into the sordid present. The 
dream-world, because it is immaterial, is not shattered 
from contact with the real, but sheds some of its glory 
on the endless straight roads and mean figures that 
hurry down them. The light of their spirits is strong 
enough to form a radiant cloud in which they move, 
isolated in populous ways, and at times is dazzling 
enough to transfigure the unlovely street into mountain- 
ous solitudes. Like Christian and Faithful in the town 
of Vanity, their meek, joyful bearing converts enemies 
to friends. If the catastrophe, awful as in Tess, is yet in 

42 



THE WESSEX NOVELS 

keeping, which that of Tess is not, it is because the book 
is founded on a definite code of manners. The two 
escaped figures from the dream-world eventually suc- 
cumb, but the wreck is of the body rather than the 
soul. 

It would be possible to trace Hardy's golden legend 
in the more ideal scenes of his other greater novels — 
such as the episode of Fanny Robin in Far from the 
Madding Crowd, or all that concerns Marty South in the 
Woodlanders — or to watch its fainter appearance in the 
books that stand just behind the inner circle, or even 
its dawn in his earliest essays in fiction. But for the 
present we prefer to stand at the centre and ask ourselves 
what is his basis of reality without which no work of art 
can endure ? Where is the ladder planted on solid 
earth yet reaching to the heaven of his dreams ? 

And we find this basis in the soul of the peasant, 
because the peasant, thus idealized, is distinguished 
with one other class still surviving in corners of the world, 
by possessing a soul. This other class is made up of 
those members of the old aristocracy who are not 
infected by the modern desire for wealth. Of these 
two — the true peasantry and the true aristocracy — it 
is only the first who can embody Bacon's maxim and 
despise riches because they despair of them, — whereas 
the second, used through long centuries to material 
possessions, walk easily beneath their burden, converting 
it to an adornment which does not hide the graces of 
nature or become an armour plate to obscure the light 
of the soul. Between these poles of society revolve the 
socialistic artisan class, and the many circles of the 
money-getting bourgeois class, — who take thought for 
the morrow and sacrifice present to future, who condemn 
vice because it is expensive or may cause a scandal, who 
make marriages like contracts in business, whose ideals 
are respectability and material efficiency, in pursuit of 
which they encrust themselves more and more stiffly 
with the mud of this planet. 

43 



THE HEART OF 

We know that deceit lies in generalities, and that any- 
one could immediately confute this theory with a dozen 
instances from his own experience. It is just as true, 
according to the naturalistic French novels, that there are 
some peasants distinguished by a ferocious love of money 
— as also that there are members even of the old aristoc- 
racy with human sympathies atrophied by care for rank 
and position. We must also except the intellectual 
classes, in whom the practice of art should stimulate the 
working of the spirit. But it has been said that generali- 
ties are necessary, and it therefore remains roughly true 
that the unsophisticated soul is most often found in the 
peasant and the nobleman, — in those who are above 
competition and those who decline it. 

And as art is concrete, and it is the artist's duty to 
interpret ideally the facts of his experience, so are these 
two classes who enshrine what beauty is left in the 
distracted modern world, fittest for his treatment. In 
the one we have the beauty evolved by centuries of cul- 
ture, education, easy living : beauty of face and form, 
of speech and manner, of that kind of disinterested 
thought which is the offspring of leisure. In the second 
— and here Hardy is our best guide — we have the beauty 
of the simple man directly associated with nature. Just 
as he owes to her his moral characteristics — his generosity, 
his loyalty, his freedom from suspicion — so is his out- 
ward form exalted by sharing in her moods. We see 
him empurpled by the sunset, one with the brown heath 
or green of the meadows, a very brother to autumn, 
interpreter of the language and music of the trees. . . . 

The theme of Hardy's novels is to make visible the 
beauty of these souls, whether in their native places, 
or in their interaction with the world, which, though it 
rejects them as false prophets, by contrast with its own 
darkness, bears witness to their light. But it is in the 
first of these endeavours that Hardy's art becomes 
perfect, that we detect in him something of a Renaissance 
mood : for it is a fact of the individual mind, as of the 

44 



THE WES SEX NOVELS 

embryo, that it repeats the experience of the race. The 
distinctive trait of the Renaissance was its morning 
freshness, despite the use made of classical models to 
further its own artistic expression. But in the long 
interval between ancient and mediaeval art, the soul had 
grown strong in silent meditation, and when the seal 
of the cloister was broken, it reshaped old forms and 
transfigured old themes with its terrific stored energy. 
Not only in art but in life did the spiritual triumph over 
the material, — did human beings judge each other not 
by the accident of outward form or worldly station, 
but the intrinsic beauty of the soul : as we know from 
the sonnets of Shakespeare and many others, it was the 
fashion for men to address each other in the language 
of love. Granted that this spiritual loosening comes 
to the individual as to the race, we understand how 
Hardy, who was not born in an age of faith, himself 
agnostic, scholar, philosopher, should, while flashing 
the lamp of knowledge down the shaft of his soul, dis- 
cover in its lowest depth — in the simplest type of human 
being — the most fitting material for his genius. 

It is no mere sentimental Rousseau doctrine of return 
to nature to remedy the ills of civilization, that Hardy 
preaches. He chooses the peasant's lot because there is 
something in the prior inherited experience of his soul 
which the spiritual loosening caused by the impact of his 
Renaissance wave has brought to the surface. And as 
in the Renaissance proper old forms were pressed into 
the service of new ideas, so does the highly evolved brain 
of the artist, the scholar's learning, the sceptic's melan- 
choly, make more poignant the fate of those who fulfil 
the oldest tasks in the world. In the morning freshness 
of the Renaissance the soul awoke from its thousand years 
of reverie, and man went forth to enjoy the present on 
earth, eager as a child who is not haunted by a happier 
past, but with the faculties of mature age. The centre 
of the emotion we receive from Hardy is, therefore, pure 
joy, — as witness those of his pictures which dwell longest 

45 



THE HEART OF 

in our minds : Tess who would make of her love a long 
betrothal, and who — like Thomasin Yeobright — scarcely 
understands angry words from one she loves, only 
recognizing anger by its sound ; Jude and Sue who 
walk through life wrapped in the cloud of their love, 
unconscious of a jeering world ; Clym Yeobright — to a 
lesser extent because the dream is less deep — so far for- 
getting his lost ambition that he can sing while cutting 
furze on the heath, to the despair of his wife. These 
are the moments when man becomes as if immortal on 
earth, for the great emotions, like the great passions of 
which Coleridge spoke, are atheists believing in no 
future. 

But the white light which forms the centre of the 
emotion is surrounded by darker rings. If the men of 
the Renaissance believed in an earthly paradise, they 
were unconsciously buoyed up by an accumulated 
spiritual reserve. The centuries that followed saw the 
slow wasting of this reserve, and though the individual 
may re-duplicate the Renaissance mood, the roots of 
his being do not strike down to the vast underground 
circulation of spiritual waters. In the eighteenth 
century was born that modern scientific, utilitarian 
world, which the professional and business and artisan 
classes who have come to control it, look upon as a real 
thing, not a symbol of a diviner world. Man, it has been 
said, is born brother of his contemporaries, and therefore 
the two nigh extinct classes who conserve humanity's 
best gift, are often repudiated both by God and their 
fellow-creatures. They have neither the strength to 
force their way through life, nor the faith which makes 
its triumphs or defeats seem but a little thing. 

The emotion felt by the sonneteer of the Renaissance 
was a religious one, because he saw God manifested in 
the soul of his friend or mistress : and the summit of 
religion is to prefer good to evil simply because God 
wishes it so. This exalting of the Person and neglect 
of mere moral maxims and prudential restraints is also 

46 



THE WESSEX NOVELS 

the point of union between saint and artist, but in ages 
of little faith, when communications between earth and 
heaven have grown intermittent, it has peculiar dangers. 
For the elect soul of to-day, though also prompted to 
worship God in human shape, fails to see when beauty of 
outward form loses its true character of index to beauty 
of mind, and, retaining its native instinct to accept as 
law the wish of the beloved, — too gentle to contradict, 
and unfortified by bourgeois morality and suspicion, — 
is beckoned down to the low places. The sons of God 
become entangled with the daughters of men. 

Thus in Hardy's pages we see Tess momentarily 
dazzled by Alec d'Urberville, Jude sacrificed to Ara- 
bella, Fanny Robin abandoned by the world. Yet to 
record the misadventures of chosen spirits born out of 
their due time would describe inadequately the emotion 
we receive from Hardy. It is but partial truth that he 
is a pessimist, for these rubs and crosses and mischances 
which wreck human lives are but outward constraints 
imposed upon the soul : the mere bolts and bars which 
prison it in its earthly house. The light we see burning 
within admonishes us that its native faculty to enjoy 
remains unquenched. As the Phoenician merchants who 
lit a fire in sand and saw a wondrous film forming were 
the first to discover glass, — so, as we labour in the desert 
places, there rises before us a magic window through 
which glimmers for a moment an enchanting landscape. 

In the grief of those who lose all that makes life sweet, 
or even life itself, we find unexpected evidence that 
somewhere or other this happiness exists : in the lost 
Paradises, of love with Tess or Marty South, of learning 
with Jude. The words written with chalk on the pauper 
coffin, " Fanny Robin and child," raise a picture of the 
sheltered life of love that should have been the lot of 
such a beautiful-minded being. The effect is not wholly 
one of contrast, nor a further example of Dante's divine 
saying ; it rather resembles the coming of faith at the 
eleventh hour to the troubled soul. And this final 

47 



HEART OF WESSEX NOVELS 

emotion shows clearest in the story, To Please his Wije^ — 
the best of Hardy's short stories, and one of the best 
in the world — because instances crowd thick and fast 
within the smallest space. What infinite suggestion is 
there in the three visionary forms which the bereaved 
wife and mother sees kneeling every Sunday on the 
chancel-step ! (They recall the words of the witness, 
how three men were cast into the furnace, but four 
might be seen walking unharmed amid the flames.) 
Does not the eternally level waste of waters southward, 
unbroken by the longed-for mainmast, tell of a sea in 
some other world that will not bear our friends away ? 
Do not the actual ravages of grief — the greyed hair, 
the lined forehead, the gaunt and stooping form — hint 
at a more ideal beauty ? How fair must have been the 
lost thing that could awaken such regret ! ... At the 
lowest deep there is a sudden turn of Fortune's wheel, 
and we are in a world of reversed laws, — where fire does 
not burn, nor water drown, — where on days of hazy calm 
and sea like glass, ships seem to be sailing in the heavens. 
But speculation may lead too far, and as we soar 
upward amid clouds of fancy, the silken thread which 
unites body and spirit may snap, and the dreamer awake 
no more. Let us therefore conclude by bringing before 
the mind's eye some of those pictures where earth and 
heaven are one. We will think of Clym Yeobright at 
work on Egdon Heath, and almost subdued to its 
colour, while the strange amber-coloured butterflies 
quiver in the breath of his lips, alight upon his bowed 
back, and sport with the glittering point of his hook ; — 
of the pink flowers reflected in Sue's pale cheeks as she 
bends towards them ; — of Fanny Robin whose first 
question on waking from her swoon in the portals of 
Casterbridge Workhouse is for the dog without whose 
assistance she would not have reached that dreadful 
haven ; — of Tess returning from her first visit to Alec 
d'Urberville, — roses at her breast, roses in her hat, 
roses and strawberries in her basket to the brim. 

48 



Swinburne 



SWINBURNE 

THE once popular conception of Swinburne as a 
poetic innovator has disappeared, and we regard 
him rather as the latest representative of the great race 
of poets descended from Chaucer. Without wishing 
to cast a stone at the bards of contemporary England, 
it may be asserted that their abandonment of the grand 
tradition marks a definite break in the evolution of their 
art. That not the quality of individual genius but the 
late hour of civilization in which these singers have 
appeared on earth, is at fault, we do not dispute : but 
our wonder is increased tenfold at the man who, coming 
late among a jaded audience, has yet charmed it with 
sweet sounds that recall its youth. 

As the centuries lengthen the anthology will play an 
increasingly important part ; and we are reminded 
that not the Xerxes' hosts but the handful of Marathon 
march on to immortality. And as the ancient moralist 
forbade any man to be called happy till he were dead, 
so we may deny a poet assured fame till his language 
has ceased to be a living force. For poetry (like all 
things) is in a condition of advance towards its goal of 
perfect speech ; the poetry of one generation may 
become the prose of the next, and the fame of the 
individual perish as in some Tarpeian tragedy, or by 
self-immolation through the general advance in beauty 
of a language of which he was at first the pioneer. We 
must grant therefore that only a small portion of a poet's 
output is known as poetry to the fourth generation, 
though its vital force may preserve from decay a huge 

5i 



SWINBURNE 

uninspired main body. In order to estimate Swinburne's 
peculiar contribution to a literature already overflowing 
with riches, it behoves us to attempt some description 
of the art of poetry, — and we use the word description 
rather than definition, knowing how often the latter has 
been tried in vain. 

Poetry, we may say in metaphor, is the speech of 
angels, based upon the emotion of love which rules their 
spiritual world, — unlike the logic-bound speech of man. 
The poet, wandering far from his fellows, ascends the 
mountain, and, if his strength fail not, draws near the 
summit. The exhilarating quality of the air intoxicates 
him ; the law of gravitation ceases to act ; he rises as 
on wings towards the gates of heaven and overhears 
some strains of the celestial music. These, in his great 
joy, he translates into earthly symbols and gives to the 
lower world, and is henceforth honoured as one inspired. 
But, as time passes on, his exquisite phrases grow familiar 
to man, are vulgarized by repetition, and at last even 
refused the title of poetry in a language which they 
have helped to enrich. 

For the snatches of divine song thus overheard are 
transcribed by the poet in an alien tongue. Even as he 
meditates over his experience it fades like the beauty of 
a dream. There is thus no equality among those 
admitted to the beatific vision ; all depends on the 
fineness of the instrument with which he reaches from 
earth to heaven : his individual heart and brain. And 
if these in some cases obscure the divine message, in 
others fling only a temporary splendour upon the page, 
and in a few kindle unextinguished lamps in the corridor 
of this lower world, — it is the critic's duty to explain 
the causes. Having, therefore, established in our 
minds an approximate idea of poetry in the abstract, 
we proceed to an examination of the poet's soul. 

The leading characteristic of Swinburne's nature 
was its healthiness : though this may seem a strange 
statement in view of the stories of dissipations, etc., 

5* 



SWINBURNE 

connected with his name. But we learn from the 
pages of Sir Edmund Gosse that his fevered London 
life was based upon an inherited fund of healthiness, — 
as proved by the magical recoveries which he made on 
his return to the country. His birth in 1837 coincided 
with the formal outbreak of the unlovely Victorian 
age. It was a time when the professional and business 
classes were refusing pleasure and knowledge for the 
sake of money : a form of asceticism compared by 
Ruskin to the two others which have possessed the 
world — the religious and military. Its most sinister 
commandment against rightful enjoyment for children 
was to lead in the third generation to widespread moral 
and nervous disaster, and the projection of many who 
escaped madness or early death into careers of heartless 
ambition or grovelling sensuality : thus vindicating 
the Aeschylean doctrine that sin entails suffering upon 
the innocent. Swinburne's ancestors were those who 
had devoted themselves to the public services and given 
their best for the sake of honour rather than profit, so 
that thanks to his family's high social position, in a 
world still safe from democracy, his childhood was of 
the happiest. While the children of the classes mentioned 
above were being initiated from the cradle into the 
cares of life and the prices of things, his days were 
spent in cloudless serenity. With no foreboding of a 
grimmer world beyond, he absorbed into his nature 
with unconscious thoroughness the beauty of the 
scenes in which his lot was cast. The soft beauties of 
the Isle of Wight, varied by the sterner lines of Nor- 
thumbrian scenery, were the background to his domestic 
peace. He moved in a circle of which his gracious parents 
were the centre, among beloved sisters and cousins 
with whom he rode and walked and climbed and 
recited poetry. It was the self-confidence sprung of 
happiness that protected him from bullying at school 
where he played no games and was eccentric in appear- 
ance and habits. 

53 



SWINBURNE 

We can name two others who reached the confines 
of the world of action equally fortified by early happiness : 
Shakespeare and Jane Austen. Of Shakespeare it is 
needless to speak ; in uie case of Jane Austen we may 
point to the perfect temper and balance of her work 
through a career which continued to touch the world 
but lightly. With Swinburne, contact with the world 
produced the keenest irritation : as witness the mis- 
adventures of his London life, his untoward relations 
with associated men, his troubles with publishers, his 
club experience, even his solitary proposal of marriage. 
It is therefore inevitable that for the modern reader 
nine-tenths of his work has ceased to hold charm, and 
the remainder does so by virtue of that wonderful 
experience and heritage of joy. 

If we examine the work of a contemporary we shall 
find something similar. There are critics who exalt 
Morris's Defence of Guenevere above all his work ; 
others, with more justice, his Poems by the Way. To 
the first we would remark how little of the author's 
inner self is expressed ; to the second, that the social 
reformer is present with the poet. There are still 
others who prefer the latter half of The Earthly Paradise^ 
especially the hovers of Gudrun, — or the mighty achieve- 
ment of Sigurd. The exception we take to these is that 
they are not wholly informed by a living spirit. We 
would rather point to the unique beauty of the Greek 
stories of the first half of The Earthly Paradise. There 
will be found Morris's soul most fully disengaged from 
worldly cares and revelling in its native beauty : though 
we admit that the lack of a finished severity of form 
denies the claim of these stories, in an advanced age of 
literature, to the very highest poetry. 

So long as man inhabits the earth he consists of soul 
and body, and must therefore deliver his message in 
earthly writing ; and thus the greatest works of imagina- 
tion carry with them the seeds of their own mortality. 
It is the critic's duty to insist jealously upon the exclusion 

54 



SWINBURNE 

of sense from the guiding intellect. The highest 
Teacher bade us take no thought for the morrow, and 
warned us against the materializing effect of " care " ; 
and Swinburne has himself affirmed that anger is a 
sensual passion. Let us listen to a song of Morris's 
where the lover cannot enjoy the beautiful scenes through 
which he is wending with his mistress for thought of 
the great city just visible from the hill-top : 

" Hark the March wind again of a people is telling ; 
Of the life that they live there, so haggard and grim, 
That if we and our love amidst them had been dwelling, 
My fondness had faltered, thy beauty grown dim." 

We see how care and anxiety and social doubts intrude 
upon the amount of pure intellect needed to frame the 
divine message, — so that its moral value will outlive 
its aesthetic. His garden of song is surrounded by a 
stone wall instead of insensibly becoming one with 
the near fields and blue distances. It is not for the 
intellect to be attenuated into invisibility but rather 
attracted into the nature of the spirit it protects : as 
the gates of iron and adamant pictured by Milton were 
eternally impaled by circling fire yet unconsumed. 

Thus we say a poet reveals his individual self and 
becomes known to his place and age by the quality of 
his spiritualized intellect. His soul in its original 
essence may be one with that of the universe, but its 
union with the body constitutes his life on earth, — 
and we conceive of earthly life as a stage in spiritual 
progress towards perfection. With Swinburne it was 
contact with literature superimposed upon his inherited 
and acquired experience of happiness, that directed his 
pen in moments of inspiration. As he is the healthiest, 
he is the least personal and most objective of poets, 
the freest from morbid self-questionings, and with no 
autobiographical basis to speak of in his best work. 
The Triumph of Time is a moving poem, and there is 
a special charm in his poems on children, but we do 

55 



SWINBURNE 

not rate these as his best ; while his inferior work and 
his critical writings display that intense irritation from 
collision with the world of which we have spoken. It 
is the mystic agreement between the finished product 
of another mind and the vision of beauty lying in the 
depths of his nature — like the mysterious lake of Gaube 
which he delights to describe — which release his Delphic 
words and the waves of heavenly music on which they are 
borne to the listener's ear. 

That Swinburne is at his best in his joyful reception 
and rendering of natural beauty, we maintain ; and we 
proceed to dwell upon the special quality which he 
has contributed to the work of his predecessors. When 
Chaucer writes, 

" Bifel that in that seson on a day 
In Southwerk at the Tabard as I lay " 



When Shakespeare sings through Ariel, 

" Come unto these yellow sands 
And then take hands " 

When Wordsworth writes of the cuckoo, 

" Though babbling only to the vale 
Of sunshine and of flowers " 

we feel that in every case the poet's great joy has trans- 
figured into the ideal a simple statement of fact, and 
made audible the music of the spheres. There is 
something similar in the following lines of Swinburne : 

" O gracious city well-beloved, 

Italian, and a maiden crowned, 
Siena, my feet are no more moved 

Toward thy strange-shapen mountain-bound." 

But if we turn to Shakespeare's song of Marianna, 

" Take, O, take those lips away 
That so sweetly were forsworn " 

or of the bereaved Ophelia, 

56 



SWINBURNE 

" White his shroud as the mountain snow- 
Larded with sweet flowers " 

a new note is heard from the pressure of grief upon the 
complex modern soul. 

The complexity of the modern soul : these words 
are the key to the peculiar emotion rendered by Swin- 
burne. For the modern poet does not give large circular 
glances at the world around but peers deeply into the 
inherited world within, and, like a geologist boring 
through the strata, discovers older civilizations and 
prehistoric remains. It is his duty to make articulate 
the human emotion which has not perished with the 
fleshly envelope of those who once peopled f;he shadowy 
regions, and which we may yet discover in the eyes of 
some haunted modern man. The cries that reach us from 
these submerged lands may be faint compared to our 
loud tones, but they are strange and beautiful, and 
there is a peculiar charm in the mingling of old and 
new, as the poet sounds the various stops. He may 
rise from the depth to the surface at one stroke, as 
when he interjects the words, " O sweet strange elder 
singer," amid the wild unearthly music of Ave Atque 
Vale ; or, as in Atalanta^ his voice may take a tone from 
each of the strata through which it passes, and yet 
emerge a human voice, akin to the voices of to-day. 
Other writers — the Brontes, Pater, Thomas Hardy — 
have drawn upon this inheritance, but Swinburne differs 
in that the breeze which rises from the well-shaft of the 
soul is laden with joy rather than sorrow. 

We will once more recur to the father of English poetry 
and the device of contrasted passages. Here are the 
words Chaucer puts into the mouth of the dying Arcite : 

" Alias the wo ! alias the peynes stronge 
That I for yow have suffred, and so long ! 
Alias the deeth ! alias myn Emelye ! 
Alias, departing of our compaignye ! . . . 
What is this world ? what asketh men to have ? 
Now with his love, now in his colde grave 
Allone, without any compaignye . . ." 



SWINBURNE 

It is the universal cry of bereaved humanity : the 
love of life, the fear of death and the darkness and 
silence of the grave, the homesickness for joys snatched 
away. For reality and poignancy we cannot compare 
the following lines from Swinburne's Garden of Proser- 
pine, like murmurs from the hollow land : 

" She waits for each and other, 
She waits for all men born, 
Forgets the earth her mother, 
The life of fruits and corn." 

Yet with Chaucer it is the cry of a soul bounded by 
walls of flesh ; with Swinburne it has the remoteness 
of past existences and unmeasured time. 

Thus it is the undertone of Swinburne's works that 
concerns us, not their superficial aspect or direct inten- 
tion. Surely no one's faith has ever been shaken by 
I licet or the Hymn to Proserpine, — like Tennyson's by 
the famous passage of Lucretius, — no one incited to 
vice by Dolores. There is regret, but of no poignant 
kind, in Hesperia, which certainly contains one of the 
most beautiful cadences in English poetry : 

" For thee, in the stream of the deep tide-wind blowing in with the 

water." 

The true motive of the poem on the death of Baudelaire 
is praise for work well done, not grief for an earthly 
presence that has disappeared. 

Perhaps the latter, and the Prelude to Songs before 
Sunrise, tell us the deepest secret of Swinburne's soul. 
We will for the moment prefer the Ave Atque Vale 
and repeat its crowning stanza : 

" Now all strange hours and all strange loves are over, 
Dreams and desires and sombre songs and sweet, 
Hast thou found place at the great knees and feet 
Of some pale Titan-woman like a lover, 
Such as thy vision here solicited, 

58 



SWINBURNE 

Under the shadow of her fair vast head, 
The deep division of prodigious breasts, 
The solemn slope of mighty limbs asleep, 
The weight of awful tresses that still keep 
The savour and shade of old-world pine forests 
Where the wet hill-winds weep ? " 

With the exception of " dreams and desires " there is 
no single conventional thought, no single idea that has 
not been fetched from the world of echoes. It is the 
perfect speech of one who, like Pater's Mona Lisa, 
knows the secrets of the grave. It is the flower of his 
life and culture, the spark kindled by the intellect falling 
upon the soul, and thence lighting up the long downward 
passages into the half-ghostly land. 

It is thus that we interpret Swinburne's special 
contribution to his generation, — that we re-translate 
in abstract terms the divine fragments which he over- 
heard from the angelic host who are choiring through 
eternity. It is the infinite suggestion of new Americas, 
full of strangeness and beauty, to be discovered in our 
souls, — but with grief subtracted. 

And yet the very fineness of Swinburne's gift prevents 
the acceptance of the great bulk of his work, and no 
poet would be a greater gainer from selection. After 
constant re-reading we recur to the opinion which 
recent criticism has endeavoured to disturb, that his 
later poems were but an echo of his exquisite early work. 
Surely a volume headed by Atalanta^ with selections 
from Songs of the Springtides and Tristram of Lyonesse, 
and about a score of short poems, including those 
mentioned in the foregoing pages, might descend the 
stream of time with the Lamia volume of Keats. 

If the result with Swinburne of contact with the 
world was to create an irritation, in the agony of which 
he forgot his early happiness and produced inferior 
poetry, this is still more marked with his prose. Having 
once admitted the immense value of his critical writings, 
let us say that as soon as his message is accepted by the 

59 



SWINBURNE 

world, and his teachings by repetition become common- 
places, they will inevitably disappear, for the sound 
reason that they give pain rather than pleasure to the 
reader. He is among those writers who deny equality 
with their readers, who lack sympathy with ordinary 
uninspired humanity, who assume the office of master 
but not master and friend. It may be spiritual pride 
that erects the barrier, or superior knowledge or culture, 
but in all cases there is something of the pedagogue. 
Such are Ben Jonson, Milton, Dr. Johnson, Gibbon, 
Macaulay, Lockhart, Herbert Spencer, Lord Morley, 
Mr. Arthur Symons. Of the opposite kind we may 
instance Scott who, it is said, treated his readers like his 
guests. It is distressing to accuse in this way Dr. 
Johnson, the friendliest of men, but it is one more proof 
that he was not true to himself in his writings. Having 
in mind a few passages in Lord Morley's Recollections, 
we are tempted to excise his name. The note of the 
pedagogue is not present where it might be expected, 
in Matthew Arnold or Jowett. It is a mere feint with 
Meredith, however removed his style above the mob 
of minds ; and it appears but fleetingly with Carlyle, 
for all Carlyle's philosophy is underpropped by the 
emotion that life is both sweet and precarious. 

But Swinburne throughout his prose work handles 
the weapon of superior knowledge with imperfect temper 
and sympathy. It is admitted that except on Victor 
Hugo and Landor his critical verdicts have eclipsed the 
wisest of his predecessors and contemporaries. He 
was, as Ruskin said, a mighty scholar, and the perfect 
health and balance of his nature are almost as present 
in his literary judgments as in his early poetry. He 
encircles the whole world of ancient and modern litera- 
ture in his clasp, — Greek, Latin, Italian, French, English. 
He compares Byron and Juvenal, Webster and Sophocles, 
i^Eschylus and Shakespeare, with absolutely sure instinct 
and freedom from prejudice. With an almost sublime 
confidence in his ear to detect distinct strains of music, 

60 



SWINBURNE 

he points to the scenes or even separate passages or 
lines by Shakespeare, in a play of joint authorship. 
The keen edge of his critical instrument is never turned 
by use ; his unsleeping power of concentration enables 
him to detect the one golden grain in the sandy waste 
of dullness. He has not cast the essay in a form of 
beauty like Arnold and Pater, but — like Darwin com- 
pared to other professors of evolution — he has gone 
that one step further than the greatest which compels 
them to acknowledge him the master. He rigidly 
enforces the law to which all others do lip-homage : 
that the artist is a specialist and must be judged by his 
work only. He is therefore not deterred in his advance 
to the heart of the city by the sign-posts pointing to the 
moral and political and domestic quarters. No extra- 
literary considerations deflect his needle by even a 
tremor from its steadfast adherence to the aesthetic 
north. He tells us what we knew but could not express : 
that Shelley is to Coleridge as a lark to a nightingale ; 
that Wordsworth's genius at its highest is sublimity in 
tenderness ; that loveliness is the prime quality of 
Keats ; that in rendering nature Shelley utters a 
" rhapsody of thought and feeling coloured by contact 
with nature but not born of the contact " ; that the gist 
of Byron's philosophy is that excess brings reaction ; 
that only Marlowe among poets started with a style 
of his own ; that Shakespeare is a darker fatalist than 
iEschylus, — and also that he cared more for literary 
fame than his critics suppose. It is an anxious moment 
when his eye is turned upon one of our favourites : 
we sigh with relief when he appears well disposed 
towards Dr. Johnson. Our fell of hair almost rises 
when he advances as reason for Arnold's anti-Philistin- 
ism the fact that he came of Philistine stock — David 
the son of Goliath — and in the blindness of reaction 
took the French Academy and Revue des Deux Mondes 
at their own valuation. He tells us that it is the artist's 
duty to suggest, not assert, and in the same breath he 

61 



SWINBURNE 

applauds Balzac as " the greatest direct expounder of 
actual moral fact " : so assured is he that in art it is the 
result that weighs, independent of the process. Like 
the flatterers and parasites of the nobleman in Gold- 
smith's Citizen of the World, we can only tag his observa- 
tions with a " Very true ! " Sorely against our will we 
compare to his advantage the flower of his culture 
springing from a rich loamy soil deposited by centuries, 
and Arnold's which is a comparatively new thing, and 
overbright with surprise and paradox. 

But we must repeat that we read his essays for their 
matter entirely, and the author is never our friend : 
though always with the reminder that the cause is the 
action of the world on a nature incomparably fine. He 
overpowers us with his superior knowledge, and 
frightens us with the impatience and irascibility of 
the pedagogue. When Professor Bradley in his book 
on Shakespeare quotes Swinburne, we feel a relief that 
it is Bradley not Swinburne with whom we are walking. 
The law that taste is no matter for dispute is suspended 
in his favour ; we suppress in our minds any admiration 
for Euripides or Musset or the Idylls of the King, much 
as a schoolboy hides a detective story under a grammar 
or dictionary ; or we recall our readings of the Duchess 
of Malfi and doubt whether we admired heartily enough 
to escape the modern Dunciad. At moments, indeed, 
through the parted clouds of anger we see the blue 
skies of poetry, — as when he compares Childe Harold 
and Don Juan to lake water and sea water, or the effect 
of Chapman's translation of Homer to the pace of a 
giant for echo of the footfall of a God ; — and a bright- 
bannered host marches down his processional road 
through the land of Shakespeare. But for the most 
part he is in a state of warfare against real or imaginary 
fools. Dr. Johnson, writing of Milbourne's attack on 
Dryden's Virgil, would have revised his opinion that bad 
poetry alone cannot excite strong resentment, had he known 
how completely Swinburne lived in and for literature. 

62 



SWINBURNE 

And here, after having given almost involuntarily 
the highest tribute to the man of letters, we ask the 
final question : how far was this life complete ? It is 
the more pertinent with Swinburne because he professed 
the belief that earthly life suffices for man. He extolled 
Frederick the Great because he fought " sober " and 
was not " God-intoxicated " like the Puritans, and 
affirmed that heroism was spoilt for him by trust in 
Providence. That he was spiritually-minded we know 
from his fervid hero-worship and reiterated confession 
that his acquaintance with Landor and Mazzini, even 
his correspondence with Hugo, had been the greatest 
privileges of his life. Of the first event he wrote, " I 
am not sure that any other emotion is so endurable and 
persistently delicious as that of worship, when your 
god is indubitable and incarnate before your eyes." With 
this we may compare the following : " I don't myself 
know any pleasure physical or spiritual (except what 
comes of the sea) comparable to that which comes of 
verse in its higher moods. " 

It is a fascinating theory, in an agnostic age, that human 
life and the full development of the faculties suffice 
man's highest needs, and that death may thus lose its 
sting. Here at least is no promise of a remote inherit- 
ance that may founder with all our hopes, but something 
that we possess this day. Yet we recall Newman's 
picture of the heathen writers yearning in vain for some 
unknown good and higher truth, and the words of 
Lucretius which he quotes : " We should be happy 
were it not for that dreadful sense of Religion which 

we all have, which poisons all our pleasures " 

Also we have in our minds Carlyle's unforgettable pictures 
of the great actors of the eighteenth century who have 
passed the peak of years and are treading the slope 
towards the tomb, — and the deathbeds of kings or states- 
men or voluptuaries who believed in the reality of power 
or pleasure. Though comparisons are not always fair, 
as we turn the pages of a man's life we unconsciously 

63 



SWINBURNE 

try it by an ideal, and the ideal life (shall we say ?) is 
St. Paul's, to whom, as years passed on, the unseen 
world became more vivid and the material world more 
faint. 

In Shakespeare's day the balance between inner and 
outer was equally maintained : on Milton and the 
Puritan reaction we need not dwell. The eighteenth 
century saw the dawn of the belief in the reality of 
human life, which, in the nineteenth, was to culminate 
in the pursuit of material efficiency and the real-policy 
of commerce. How the poets were affected by the 
prevailing spirit we see from the ages of Dryden, 
Addison, Pope, Johnson, when the muse had left her 
solitudes to frequent the tavern or coffee house. But 
even before the French Revolution the reaction had set 
in, and the tragedies of Burns and Byron illustrate the 
revolt from the social world of those who were dependent 
on its sympathies and enslaved by its memories. 

Perhaps Swinburne above all poets — above even 
Tennyson who stopped at the half-way house of fame — 
was true to himself. If human life alone can satisfy 
the soul, he enjoyed to the full three of its most splendid 
gifts : hero-worship, friends, fame : and if a poet values 
fame for the sake of love and admiration rather than 
power, his measure was indeed filled to overflowing. 
It was his custom to recite his unpublished poems to 
friends, and we can imagine few greater transports of 
the soul than to intone as new things to a sympathetic 
audience the long lines of Hesperia or the Hymn to 
Proserpine. What the rude external world did was to 
break the silver cord of poetic inspiration and darken 
with anger his critical writings, yet he held an unbroken 
course. In the beautiful conclusion of Sir Edmund 
Gosse's biography we see him become the shadow of 
his former self, brooding over dead friends and the 
" wonderful days of his youth." Recalling what was 
said of comparative lives, and preferring to conceive of 
the world as a place of hope, it saddens us to hear that 

64 



SWINBURNE 

in his latest years he wrote verses " to escape from 
boredom/ ' But he was strong-nerved as well as fine- 
nerved, and was never persuaded to recant or decline 
from his position that this life is all, or profess the star- 
lit faiths of some agnostics weakened by bereavement 
or old age. His gifts were lyric genius and health of 
race and person, and the tinge of the second is in his 
immortal work : it is in the brightness of the ray of this 
world's sunshine which he darted into the pale kingdoms 
inherited by the soul. 



65 



The Homeland of Jane Jlusten 



THE HOME-LAND OF JANE AUSTEN 

THE children who set out to chase the rainbow 
may still, in old age, be toiling across country 
towards that brilliant phenomenon, but the mere 
observer has learnt on what day of rain and sun to 
look from his window. Even so the critic, baffled by 
the Nile-sources of genius, is free to speculate on the 
influence on genius of the circumstances of its owner's 
life. And with Jane Austen it was her happiness which 
quickened her insight and gave her power to draw 
character with a balance only attained by the greatest. 
She was absolutely happy in her home circle, and in 
performing the small duties of life .and enjoying its 
daily pleasures. She lived far from the literary world, 
and though she did care for fame as an author, was but 
slightly troubled at the long delay between the writing 
of her early novels and their publication. Genius is said 
to be eccentric and self-conscious, but not only was she 
neither, but to the end of her days she thought that 
her sister's powers of mind surpassed her own. 

That she was absorbed by home doings and scarcely 
heeded public events, strikes us more when we reflect 
on the vast changes that occurred within her lifetime. 
She was born in 1775 an ^ died in 18 17, and within 
those forty-two years occurred the French Revolution 
and the wars of Napoleon. Not only was every institu- 
tion shaken to its base, and every country on the continent 
of Europe overrun, but a profound change took place 
in the soul of man. How the external events affected 

69 



THE HOME-LAND OF 

her may be judged from the following passages in her 
letters. At the beginning of the Peninsular War she 
writes : "I am sorry to find that Sir John Moore has 
a mother living, but though a very heroic son he might 
not be a very necessary one to her happiness. " And 
again : " How horrible it is to have so many people 
killed ! And what a blessing that one cares for none of 
them ! " The inner changes failed equally to perturb 
her eighteenth-century manner of thinking. At the 
present day such a person would be called narrow- 
minded or self-absorbed, but let no one bring a charge 
of this kind against Jane Austen. 

We know on the great authority of the late W. P. 
Ker that the eighteenth century was not the age of prose 
it has been thought. Writers who stayed at home or 
consorted with a few friends through their lives, were 
no strangers to the divine idea of the universe. The 
lightning of the French Revolution struck the peasants 
cottage as well as the king's palace, and thereafter fear 
was born into the world. The barbarians who destroyed 
the Roman Empire came from the far north, but the 
modern highly organized State breeds her own destroy- 
ers, — in mine and factory and workshop, in overcrowded 
slum and tenement and tangled network of mean streets. 
To stay at home, to meditate, to enjoy the small pleasures 
of life, has become impossible ; and where fear is no 
spiritual progress can be. Therefore the poet strains 
violently to salve the deep-sunken romance in his nature 
by illicit love-making or exploiting nature's terrific 
moods. Like Scott he may turn to the legends of the 
past ; like Byron or Chateaubriand, wander over the 
globe and stimulate his sense of wonder with inaccessible 
mountains or primeval forests. He cannot enjoy the 
present unless he forgets himself, and the divine idea 
is hidden from those who do not enjoy the present : 
but the men and women of the eighteenth century needed 
not to forget themselves to enjoy the present. 

Certain philosophers affirm that every natural object 

70 



JANE AUSTEN 

contains the divine idea, which is the only reality, and 
is revealed to the contemplating mind. The ordinary 
person is no philosopher, but the power to love may 
replace the power to contemplate. We revisit the scenes 
of the happy past, where we walked with our friends, 
and recover the old emotion as forgotten details strike 
the eye, — the gate between two fields, the winding of 
the road, the sun setting behind the clump of trees, 
and the afterglow burning in the clear sky above their 
tops : but the country that surrounds the home of an 
unhappy past is a dead thing. The happiness first 
arising in the heart spreads to surrounding things : 
as the poem learned by the child and repeated by the 
aged man recalls the child's home and earliest friends 
and all the details of his life. We seek happiness, 
therefore, from no selfish motive, but to find our souls 
and realize the world is divine. Happiness on earth is 
one of the inner proofs of immortality. 

Jane Austen's happiness stayed rather at the centre 
of things — the human heart. She does not seem to have 
attached herself strongly to the scenes in which her life 
was set. There are gaps in her letters, ' but those we 
have at the time of the break-up of her early home at 
Steventon, where she spent the first twenty-five years 
of her life, reveal no poignant sorrow. It sufficed that 
the home circle was unbroken : and indeed, while she 
lived, she lost no one of her dearest except her father. 
She and her sister Cassandra were once described in a 
letter as " elegant young women," and they were lively 
and good-looking, and certainly attracted men, yet fate 
willed they should not marry. The clergyman to whom 
Cassandra was betrothed died of yellow fever in the 
West Indies, and Jane's one suitor who is thought to 
have deserved her, died soon after the acquaintance 
opened. Another who possessed " all but the subtle 
power of touching her heart," did propose and was 
accepted ; but her mind immediately changed, and she 
preferred to keep the joys she had rather than fly to 

7* 



THE HOME -LAND OF 

others that she knew not of. Her age was twenty-seven, 
and she and her sister were visiting old friends in Hamp- 
shire. Their hosts drove them back to their brother's 
house and took tearful and distressing farewells : after 
which they required their brother to accompany them by 
coach to their home at Bath, though he could ill spare 
the time. This action, so contrary to their usual con- 
siderate selves, shows how Jane's balance of mind was 
overthrown by the danger to old associations. 

The author of the Memoir remarks that there were 
no disagreements in the Austen family, and they never 
disputed or argued. He thus pays a tribute to delicacy 
and self-control under the hard conditions where daily 
passages increase the risk to be familiar. To speak one's 
mind on every occasion shows rather a lacking sense of 
decency than a love of truth : and that the faculties 
are stimulated by contradiction is one of those half- 
truths which the world has agreed to pass round like 
paper money. A letter is extant written by the father 
to his son Francis — after to become Admiral — then in 
his fifteenth year, and about to embark as a volunteer 
on a frigate for the East Indies. The letter is described 
as wise and kind, and remarkable for the courtesy and 
delicacy with which the father advises his son, who was 
but a boy, but whom he treats as an officer. Another 
typical thing is Jane's conduct to her beloved niece 
Fanny, whose love-confidences she received, but spoke 
of them to no third person, not even to the sister from 
whom she was inseparable. We may also recall how, 
in her last years of illness, Jane improvised a sofa with 
chairs lest her mother should use less frequently the 
only sofa in their home. Domestic happiness is therefore 
a separate art, and by no means one easy to practise ; 
and now if we look back to the words about Sir John 
Moore we understand that a man's loss is not deeper 
felt because he wins battles and conducts retreats. 
Indeed those of us who have absorbed King Lear's 
terrible sayings about the official world, may think less 

72 



JANE AUSTEN 

of the great ones of the earth ; but while honouring the 
Austen family as ideal, it is not here intended to praise 
indiscriminately all self-sufficing families, for there is 
a narrow and exclusive domestic affection, nourished 
on suspicion of those outside, which is by no means 
pleasing to look upon : and yet Froude said truly that 
disguise is impossible within the home circle — that 
he who is loved by brother or sister cannot be bad. 

Granted the sound family traditions and the self- 
control and other good qualities of individual members, 
it remains to see the effect of this happiness on Jane 
Austen's work. To her assured position she owed her 
perfect temper and absence of concern for mere literary 
fame, in which she resembled Scott and Shakespeare. 
Her first three books, written before she was twenty- 
three, were not published for thirteen years, yet she 
did not fret over the delay. Looking at the work itself 
we discern a radical difference between her and all but 
one of the greater English novelists. The novelist 
who delineates a character places it in one scale and 
himself in another. With Dickens the caricaturist 
depresses the author's scale, with Thackeray the satirist, 
with George Eliot the philosopher, with Charlotte 
Bronte the lyric poet. Only with Scott and Jane Austen 
is there the perfect balance of Shakespeare. Each of 
the others desires to remould the world according to 
a pre-conceived plan. 

That she had her philosophy as much as Thackeray, 
we will not dispute, and the characters of both move in 
groups. All Thackeray's persons play their parts within 
the town of Vanity, while she retains hers within the 
home circle ; yet there is something of the larger family 
life in Thackeray's conception, and he deals with the 
stings which those in close relation inflict upon each 
other. But when he actually touches the inmost circle 
we see how essentially they differ. It may be true or 
false that Amelia was an insipid character, — yet some 
persons hold that she is redeemed by her quarrels with 

73 



THE HOME-LAND OF 

her mother at the end of Vanity Fair, But does not the 
episode of the shawl which she sells to buy books for her 
boy make us wince with pain while we read it ? We 
feel a guilty pang as if we had been eavesdropping and 
heard what we should not. Place beside it the silver 
knife in Mansfield Park which had belonged to the dead 
child and proved a source of discord between two of the 
living. By many previous intimate touches Jane 
Austen has made us one of the family circle, and we 
realize this to be but a single phase of ill-feeling. 
The acutely sensitive Thackeray, unhappy in his eaaly 
manhood, had been cut to the quick by the world's 
sharp ways, and his art is less whole and perfect. 

There survived into the eighteenth century, it is said, 
something of the sociable quality of the Middle Ages, 
when artists worked like members of a guild. Pope 
has been tried for his poetic life and acquitted after a 
long and memorable trial like Warren Hastings. He 
wrote for an audience that he knew, and by saying that 
Jane Austen makes us one of the family circle, we imply 
that hers was a social art. Her domestic affections were 
strongest, but not exclusive, and she was friendly with 
neighbours, though not intimate. She enjoyed dances 
and visits to London and theatres and tea-parties, and 
the whole social round in moderation. At the age of 
thirty-three she wrote : "It was the same room in which 
we danced fifteen years ago. I thought it all over, and 
in spite of the shame of being so much older, felt with 
thankfulness that I was quite as happy now as then." 
She was keenly interested in all the people she met, 
but rated them correctly in proportion to the distance of 
their circles from her inmost circle. She discriminated 
even nearer home, writing thus to Cassandra about 
their niece Fanny who was growing up : "I found her 
in the summer just what you describe, almost another 
sister ; and could not have supposed that a niece would 
ever have been so much to me." This social quality of 
Jane Austen's life is transferred to her books, and the 

74 



JANE AUSTEN 

reader becomes definitely related to her. He savours 
the best family gossip. 

It has been said that all Thackeray's books might 
be called Vanity Fair, and we constantly feel that Becky 
Sharp and Arthur Pendennis and Clive Newcome are 
passing shadows. They reflect the mind of one who 
believes that all is vanity, and whose soul is therefore 
alone with the universe. The game of life interests him 
because it enables him to forget himself, but the delight 
is in the struggle, not in the result. For Becky who 
had been used as a child to cajole the unpaid milkman, 
it was a grand transformation scene to enter ducal halls, — 
but she was bored in the end. Thackeray belonged to 
that later generation which had inherited fear and 
needed strong emotions to make the world live. Macbeth 
cannot enjoy the crown because, in killing Duncan, he 
has killed his own soul, and he thinks but of the future : 

" For Banquo's issue have I filed my mind ; 
For them the gracious Duncan have I murdered ; 
Put rancours in the vessel of my peace 
Only for them, and mine eternal jewel 
Given to the common enemy of man " 

And when he hears that Lady Macbeth is dead : 

" She should have died hereafter ; 
There would have been a time for such a word." 

To him as to all those who cannot enjoy the present, 
the world has become a dead place, and he already tastes 
annihilation. 

FitzGerald, Thackeray's contemporary, described as 
one of his impressions from Boswell's Life of Johnson, 
that all the persons who acted so busily were now gone. 
Jane Austen's characters act busily enough ; they 
taste the small pleasures of life ; they desire to get 
married and live in comfortable houses : and we never 
think that time is passing and all must end. At first 
sight she seems to lack the idealizing touch of the later 

75 



THE HOME-LAND OF 

" romantics. " In Mrs. Gaskell's little town of Cranford, 
for instance, it is always afternoon : the characters are 
sheltered from the rough winds of life, and their charm 
is increased by their narrow means and shifts to live 
respectably. Jane Austen is under no illusions as to the 
power of money, and we almost smile when again and 
again she mentions the exact figure of her heroines' 
dowries. But this is no surrender to the charge of 
prose which the eighteenth century now disclaims. It 
asserts, against the fevered, galvanized social doings of 
Thackeray, — and the mountain-climbing, desert-travers- 
ing " romantics " — the joys of home, where, untroubled 
by economics, the soul develops the power to enjoy the 
present which is immortal life. 

Of this happiness we would like further details, but 
the letters give few intimate revelations, and the published 
biographical matter is slight. Now and then the letters 
afford a picture — such as this written from Godmersham 
in 1 8 1 3 : "The comfort of the billiard-table here is 
very great : it draws all the gentlemen to it whenever 
they are within, especially after dinner, so that my brother, 
Fanny, and I have the library to ourselves in delightful 
quiet." And again : " Billiards again drew all the 
odd ones away, and Edward, Charles, the two Fannies 
and I sat snugly talking." It was this summer which 
saw the friendship with her niece Fanny develop, and she 
speaks of their " delicious mornings." About the same 
time she wrote to her brother Frank on the subject of 
authorship : " After all, what a trifle it is, in all its 
bearings, to the really important points of one's exist- 
ence, even in this world." She published her novels 
anonymously, and it was against her will that her name 
finally became known. She even avoided literary circles, 
once declining to meet Madame de Stael at a party of 
wits. She lived content among intellectual inferiors, 
and differed notably from later-born writers, who not 
only sought out tremendous scenes in nature but craved 
to know distinguished persons — requiring the full 

76 



JANE AUSTEN 

blast of a great human presence to make them believe 
man has a soul, — instead of waiting patiently to be con- 
vinced of it by the small daily events among those who 
are humble-minded, but also unselfish, self-controlled, 
and earthly-refined. The criticism that Jane Austen 
excelled because she wrote of what she knew is fair, — 
but what she knew was divine. 

If we leave her life and examine her art we find in it 
the same philosophy. The test she applies to her char- 
acters is whether or not they are good members of 
the republic of home. The perfect balance that made 
us compare her with Scott and Shakespeare is not 
thereby disturbed, for she does not obtrude her philosophy 
like Thackeray or Balzac, or utter Charlotte Bronte's 
lyric cry. But since her own position was well assured, 
she asked nothing of the larger world, and if she lacked 
partners at a dance, or publishers declined her first 
novels, she had too many compensations nearer home 
to be hurt. Therefore she had the impartial touch of 
the two great ones mentioned above, whose first ambi- 
tions were not literary, and who were above literary 
jealousies. But she was none the less keenly interested 
in the world's doings, and no doubt delighted to talk 
over her social adventures with members of her family, — 
and here we have the spirit of her writings. They 
contain the essence of the finest gossip : that is the 
confidential talk of open-minded friends over the foibles 
or virtues of a larger circle, — and, since the art is a 
social one, there is an inevitable point of view, — an 
inevitable, if unconscious, comparison of the minds and 
circumstances of the speakers with those spoken of. 

It may sound impertinent to affirm that anything 
written by Jane Austen is crude, but all terms are relative, 
and this one is used here by contrast with the surpass- 
ingly fine work which she afterwards achieved. In 
Sense and Sensibility we are conscious of three interests, 
imperfectly related artistically, though finally reconciled 
by the author's personality. There are the major 

77 



THE HOME-LAND OF 

characters, the minor characters, and the story. It is her 
earliest book and the one we could best spare and are 
most inclined to omit in re-reading her works ; for, 
excepting Marianne's absorbing and elemental passion 
for Willoughby — a theme that does not distinguish 
Jane Austen among novelists — there is little that we 
do not find better done later. Lady Middleton whose 
calmness of manner was reserve rather than sense, 
suggests Lady Bertram ; Lucy Steele who does not see 
that her confidences are unwelcome, suggests Mrs. 
Elton ; and Mr. Palmer who is deliberately rude to his 
mother-in-law, and draws his wife's comment, " Mr. 
Palmer is so droll ! he is always out of humour," is a 
first draft of the finely discriminated John Knightley 
household. They are preliminary studies, as the wit- 
combats of Biron and Rosaline foreshadow those of 
Benedick and Beatrice, and the mistaken identities of 
the Comedy of Errors those of Twelfth Night. The author 
asserts — she is not to be blamed for this, for her art is 
a social one and pre-supposes a court of appeal — but 
here she over-asserts. As she turns from each figure 
the light goes out, and the next with whom she busies 
herself is untouched by the former beam. Or the 
figures are disposed in a half-circle, and must step back- 
wards to seek each other, instead of intermingling by 
moving easily round in a complete circle. They instance 
her views on life — the true or false domestic or social 
or domestic-social virtue, and how far foiled or stimu- 
lated by education, position, nature. Of course this 
applies to the minor characters, and even there Lucy 
Steele tends to emerge and become an individual. As 
revealing the author's dawning method the book 
interests, but in view of the treasures that await us it 
interests little for its own sake, and we can leave it half 
studied. 

Jane Austen never changed her philosophy but she 
advanced in the art which expressed it. In Pride and 
Prejudice she has taken all but her last step in art, though 

78 



JANE AUSTEN 

we are not among those who place it first of her works. 
In the earlier book, for the first and last time, appeared 
a conventional strain, learned from other novels,. — 
such as the duel between Willoughby and Brandon ; 
but here she begins to draw on nothing but her own 
experience. The outer art of Pride and Prejudice is 
perfect, and if we discover a fault it is by contrast with 
a more fully united later art, where hand and heart and 
experience moved together. The fault is a certain 
deliberate exaggeration of the follies of the small world 
she depicted, as if to make them better material for 
gossip. We feel that the absurdities of Mrs. Bennet 
and Mr. Collins are being noted so as to be retailed to 
congenial friends amid peals of laughter. For pure 
humour it would be hard to match the scene where Mr. 
Collins introduces himself to Darcy, and the anxious 
Elizabeth, from the movement of his lips, detects the 
word " apology.' ' But when Mary sings before the guests 
with her weak voice and affected manner, and Elizabeth 
perceives the two younger sisters making signs of 
derision at each other, — and when at the end of the even- 
ing she concludes that her family could hardly have 
exposed themselves more had they tried to do so, — 
we are approaching the dangerous ground of Thackeray, 
where we are not members of the family but eaves- 
droppers. Jane Austen never faltered in her belief that 
a person's character is best tried by family life, that 
good manners and principles can be assumed in outer 
circles, — and with greater success the more remote ; 
but at this early stage she dwelt rather on the outer 
circle of family life where it touches intimate social 
life. And as the chief business of this latter life is 
marriage, much must be conceded to appearances and 
the good opinion of the world. Hence Mrs. Bennet 
is condemned less for trying her daughters' tempers at 
home than creating prejudice with desirable suitors. 
Jane Austen is never bitter, but she depicts Mr. and Mrs. 
Bennet, and their younger daughters, and Mr. Collins, 

79 



THE HOME-LAND OF 

and Bingley's sisters, with a humour that is salted. Mr. 
Bennet had married a woman whom he could not now 
respect, and he compensated himself by making her 
look ridiculous before her children, and enjoying the 
situation when his family exposed itself in public. In 
reality this is not a thing to laugh at, but it becomes so 
through the authors youth and high spirits. It is the 
point of view of one who does not suffer from the evil 
she depicts, but observes it in order to extract humour 
from it among her assured friends and equals. She 
had not learnt that her own life was exceptional, and that 
perfect domestic happiness is an art not to be achieved 
by the many. 

The two books just discussed, though first written, 
were carefully revised in later years, so perhaps Nor- 
thanger Abbey is the fairest entire specimen of her early 
work. While the novice still shows in plot and con- 
struction, there begins that delicate inwardness which 
made the fortune of the later books, though, compared 
to Persuasion^ it is like water-colour beside miniature 
painting. The plot may be said to fail partially at the 
point where it joins the characters ; the satire on Mrs. 
Radcliffe's novels being forcibly imposed upon the 
heroine's temperament. Jane Austen is still over- 
conscious that she is writing a novel and must fit her 
experience into a form accepted by the popular mind. 
Contrasts of character are emphasised too strongly, 
such as Catherine with Isabella Thorpe, and Tilney 
with John Thorpe. Of the minor characters, Mrs. 
Allen who did not talk much but could never be entirely 
silent, and observed everything aloud, advances greatly 
on those of Sense and Sensibility^ though compared to 
Lady Bertram she is like a cut flower to one rooted in 
the soil of the story. 

But it is Catherine Morland who truly concerns us, 
and the interest is with her change of mood. Her 
happiness waxes and wanes, and the effect is like a land- 
scape which glows in the sunlight or darkens under 

80 



JANE AUSTEN 

cloud. She was humble-minded, as her creator is said 
to have been, but she had an unfailing test for character : 
its effect on her unspoilt, receptive mind. She believed 
John Thorpe was a fine fellow, because he told her so ; 
she believed his great doings with his College friends, 
and that he was an accomplished whip — though his 
horse, when " let go," did not prance and rear as he had 
foretold. Yet after an hour or so of his company she felt 
a weariness that she could not explain. And when 
she is with her dear friends, the Tilneys, she is shocked 
to find how much her spirits are relieved when their 
father withdraws. It is her changes of mood that create 
the entire atmosphere at Northanger Abbey— her 
scruple that she has stayed too long — her delight in 
being reassured and earnestly pressed to stay. On the 
last sorrowful morning, at breakfast, she contrasts the 
happiness of twenty-four hours ago when Henry sat 
beside her, and also the first miles of journey along the 
road she had travelled ten days since. Where she 
reflects her creator is in the power to extract happiness 
from these small day to day events. The interest of the 
book is inward but not subjective in the modern sense, — 
for the movements of Catherine's mind depend upon 
those of other minds. She is still like a child who cannot 
understand the true nature of sorrow, but feels it in the 
hushed laughter and downcast looks of her usual grown- 
up playmates. It is here that we see the gulf between 
Jane Austen and the " romantics " : for the romantic 
soul grows in solitude, and uses social life merely to 
express its strange experience. But if this book is 
imperfect it is because so delicate a mind requires less 
strong contrasts than the suggestions of Mrs. Rad- 
cliffe, the rough manners and want of sensitiveness of 
the Thorpes, and the rudeness of General Tilney ; — 
but the perfectly graded work was to be duly achieved. 
Northanger Abbey was completed in 1798, and for 
nearly thirteen years after Jane Austen was silent. The 
early spring of 1801 saw the break-up of her home 

81 



THE HOME-LAND OF 

at Steventon, and removal to Bath, where in February, 
1805, her father died. Next year the family left Bath 
for Southampton, and in 1809 settled at Chawton where 
Jane spent the last eight years of her life. There she 
finally revised and published her first two novels, and 
in February, 1 8 1 1 , at the age of thirty-five, began 
Mansfield Park, Art is not a matter for amateurs and 
requires constant practice, — but it also requires long 
inactive periods ; and we shall now see how fruitfully 
the unconscious mind had worked. 

In Mansfield Park she is working upon the interior 
lines where plot cannot be separated from character. 
The characters are presented in contrasts, and as the 
daily happenings of family life in a country house 
develop the characters and therefore the contrasts, the 
plot moves. Imperceptibly it gathers force, which at 
the end is suddenly released, and we get Maria's elope- 
ment and Julia's runaway marriage ; and the light 
flashed upon the reader strikes back through the breadth 
of the book and the characters grouped in his imagina- 
tion. Jane Austen is as happy as ever, but experience 
has taught her to laugh less lightly at mere outer peculiari- 
ties. Her balance is surer because she does not deliber- 
ately search for matter to laugh at, and her temper even 
more perfect. We are now in the heart of her country 
or home-land where characters are tested by their power 
to please within the family circle. Lady Bertram, who 
thinks nothing can be dangerous or fatiguing to anyone 
but herself, succumbs to this test ; so does Sir Thomas 
who wishes to be kind but is too grave in manner ; and 
so does their eldest son who consoles himself for the 
consequences of extravagance by the thought that he is 
less in debt than his friends. Critics have called Edmund 
a prig and been bored by Fanny Price, but they forget 
that the standards of the family are not those of the 
world. 

Fanny is like a highly sensitized instrument that 
registers the smallest disturbance in the family calm. 

82 



JANE AUSTEN 

When Sir Thomas leaves for Antigua, and his daughters 
are indifferent, she alone grieves because she cannot 
grieve. She also misses and regrets her cousins, though 
they have never been actively kind to her. The defect 
of the strong and external contrasts of Northanger 
Abbey is remedied beyond all doubt. Against her will 
Mary Crawford prefers Edmund, though he is neither 
man of the world nor elder brother. Henry Crawford 
is drawn imperceptibly into Fanny's orbit, away from 
the brilliant cousins. Maria had felt Crawford's lively 
personality, and dreads her approaching marriage to 
the rich but commonplace Rushworth. Their educa- 
tion has tainted their minds, and their manners and per- 
sons are better than their hearts, but none the less they 
have hearts that can recognise goodness. It is true that 
Mrs. Norris is shown without a redeeming feature, 
except that she would manage better in the place of 
her poorer sister — Fanny's mother : but the situation 
is saved by humour. Like Mrs. Bennet and Mr. 
Collins she provides laughter for the gossips : as when 
in the final ruins of the abandoned theatricals she appro- 
priates the green baize curtain. We also complained in 
Northanger Abbey that a character like Mrs. Allen, 
however amusing, merely played on the surface of the 
story. Compare her sayings with that of Lady Bertram 
when the theatricals are first bruited : " Do not act 
anything improper, my dear, Sir Thomas would not 
like it." How much it tells us why the moral world of 
Mansfield Park is out of joint ! Yet Fanny regrets 
her adopted home when she revisits her own family, and 
of all contrasts this is the most skilful. Life must be 
economically based, and Mansfield Park was at least 
externally well ordered, while in her own home her 
father swore and called out for rum and water, her 
mother rated the servants, her sisters quarrelled, the food 
was coarse and badly served, the meals unpunctual, 

the noise incessant . But through this, as through 

the faults or weaknesses of all its characters, we discern 

83 



THE HOME-LAND OF 

why Mansfield Park leaves a total impression that 
satisfies. The imperfect world is so presented that it 
suggests an ideal world of calm happiness, not too 
remote to be attained, and which is attained by two of 
the chief actors in the comedy. 

Fanny grows upon us till her spirit informs the whole. 
As the others are tried and found wanting, she quietly 
assumes their virtues — for they are not without them — 
and becomes strong enough to bear the weight of the 
plot alone. Lady Bertram cannot do without her ; 
Sir Thomas multiplies attentions, culminating in a dance 
in her honour ; Henry Crawford has forgotten Maria 
and Julia and desires only her ; and Edmund at last 
prefers her to Mary Crawford, — though the latter 
concealed a good heart under a worldly crust, and 
looked lovely when she smiled. Coriolanus addressed 
his wife as " My gracious silence," — and the most 
spiritual people prevail by silence. Not only do the 
virtues of the others pass into her, but even their good 
looks. " Fanny looked so lovely," said Crawford to 
explain his lengthened visit at Mansfield. We recall 
the words of Pandarus about Cressida to the love-sick 
Troilus : " Well, she looked yesternight fairer than 

ever I saw her look, or any woman else " And among 

the company of women was Helen of Troy ! 

Emma is a work of perfect art, but loses by the chrono- 
logical reading of Jane Austen. In Mansfield Park we 
were in the deeps of her mind ; here we retire one step 
outward into the region of mixed family and social life. 
It is that of Pride and Prejudice, but mellowed and 
ripened, with a richer humour, higher technical skill, 
and nearer to imaginative truth. In the earlier book 
it was possible that a love-story like that of Elizabeth 
and Darcy might have so developed and run its course, 
but between it and the inner relations of their natures 
was an undoubted space. In Emma as in Mansfield Park 
plot and character are self-moved, though Emma has little 
plot to speak of. In Mansfield Park the characters had 

84 



JANE AUSTEN 

to struggle to win happiness, but here it is assured them. 
The outer events are weddings, dances, garden-parties, 
excursions, but when the last page is reached the 
characters are practically unchanged. Emma has 
learnt some lessons and gained her heart's wish by 
marrying Knightley and remaining with her father, 
but not in this lies the charm. It is rather in the con- 
trasts of character which the social gatherings admit of, 
that have no active issue, yet are organic : in which the 
book differs markedly from Sense and Sensibility and 
shows how immeasurably Jane Austen improved her 
later art. We admit to preferring the middle regions 
of the story to its heights and depths. Emma's quarrel 
with Knightley about Harriet Smith and their cordial 
hand-shaking when they next meet, impress more than 
the unconscious rivalry and misunderstanding with 
Jane Fairfax. Not that the more heroic actions — if 
we may so strain the word — are superfluous, for they 
kindle in us a moment's doubt or fear, and therefore make 
us realize more truly the little world of Emma and her 
invalid father, and gentle Mrs. Weston whom the said 
father continues to pity for her marriage, despite its 
happiness, — and Knightley, and a few others of the 
inner circle. That the self-confident and insensitive 
Mrs. Elton should patronize Emma and inform her 
that " Knightley is quite the*gentleman " indeed makes 
us hold our breath with dismay. Yet the fear is but 
momentary, for the little world lies too sheltered in its 
hollow to be harmed from without. External events 
import only so far as they affect the soul in its contem- 
plating moments when self is present to self. We pray 
that the relative catastrophes may be averted, the marri- 
ages take place, that our friends who marry may con- 
tinue to live near us, — so that when the day's social work 
is done, the soul may have no regrets to mar its steady 
day-to-day contentment. We see this reflected in poor 
Miss Bates who speaks quite candidly of the sharp words 
Emma had addressed to her ; and in Harriet Smith 

85 



THE HOME- LAND OF 

whom Emma convinces again and again that she must 
forget Mr. Elton, without producing any effect. In 
the beginning Emma did not intend to marry and leave 
her father, yet liked to hear her name coupled with 
Frank Churchill's. Even so were her numerous mental 
misadventures in her attempts to form Harriet Smith's 
character and make her social fortune. The dividing 
line between the family and the world is inner not outer, 
and at times those who cross the threshold are not all- 
sympathetic. Emma knows what it is to be apprehensive 
lest her brother-in-law, John Knightley, should be 
impatient with her father ; and she has to invite the 
Eltons ; and it was not well planned to combine the two 
parties at Box Hill. As in southern climates where the 
clear air makes a small sound be heard from far off, so 
we feel the slightest twinge in these minds at peace 
with themselves : and therefore at the heart of the 

book there is a silence If Jane Austen may be 

approached in the Elysian fields, will she tell us why 
Emma was a little uncharitable to Miss Bates ? 

With Persuasion we return to the deeper world of 
Mansfield Park and find ourselves in the very inmost 
circle of the writer's heart. In Mansfield Park the 
actors had to win their happiness ; in Emma it was assured 
them, but they must guard it from contagious breaths 
of the outer world — graded from the uneasiness of 
mistaken good intentions to the shock of unsympathetic 
intruders. Persuasion tells of a happiness that has been 
lost but is won again, and so has a double value. When 
Jane Austen composed it the fatal illness had already 
touched her, and the line of cleavage shows between 
the two worlds. We have stressed the practical side 
of her nature : that she does not treat of dowerless 
heroines, and realizes that a small house and narrow 
means and domestic worries may spoil the temper ; 
but here she shows us that the world can be a still 
harder place, that one must help oneself also, that 
delicacies of mind may serve their possessor ill without 

86 



JANE AUSTEN 

certain commonplace virtues such as firmness. But 
having touched on this she restores the balance and 
shows us again the two worlds made one — the ideal 
realized on earth. Anne Elliot in early youth had weakly 
let herself be persuaded to break off her engagement 
with Captain Wentworth. Eight years later they meet, 
and he is estranged, and in quest of a bride. Louisa 
Musgrove is pretty, lively, good-humoured, unaffected, 
but she lacks Anne's finer nature ; and, unwillingly 
at first, but with ever-accelerating pace, his spirit moves 
back to Anne. It is Anne's last throw for happiness, 
for her first youth is over, and her father and sister, 
wrapped in their worldly concerns, are like strangers 
to her. Here we see the book's higher seriousness, 
for if she fails she is lost : but she does not fail, and 
this happiness, once lost, twice gained, reveals to us 
an unsteadier outer world but an inner world made 
perfect. Because it was nearly lost it seems more precious, 
and because it is regained the message of the book is 
one of hope, though our earth is dissolving like a pageant. 
The walls that guard the home have thinned, and even 
the healthy Louisa recovers slowly from her fall on 
the Cobb, and the shock to her nerves is lasting. 

But the world of Persuasion is not entirely one of 
sunset, and most of the characters are interested above 
all in life. The humour is unabated, as witness Mrs. 
Musgrove who, when the hard lot of naval officers and 
their wives is discussed, says she knows what separation 
is because her husband attends the assizes. But Jane 
Austen who so far had dealt only with life, now tells 
us of the sleep that rounds it ; and the cause of this 
added beauty was a mind preserving its power in bodily 
decline, yet touched by the shadow. The attempt to 
identify the personality of such a truly objective writer 
with one of her characters is dangerous, but, as in looking- 
glass land, the critic who disclaims it detects himself in 
it again and again. Jane Austen tends to develop Anne 
Elliot beyond the needs of the story, pointing out her 

87 



THE HOME-LAND OF 

favourite books and best-loved scenes in nature, such 
as the hues of autumn. She was sensitive to suggestion, 
having been persuaded to renounce her engagement, 
and yet over-anxious to express certain cherished 
thoughts. These weaknesses of the artistic nature 
may have appeared in her creator's latest year, though 
concealed throughout a healthful life. We know that 
she confided to her family details about her characters 
in their life beyond her pages. She told them that 
Mary Bennet married humbly, and that Mrs. Norris's 
gift to Fanny's brother was one pound sterling ! May 
we follow from a distance and add that Anne, in her 
own home, like her creator, preserved the strong affections 
and fine courtesies of domestic life — while it lasted ! 
Helen Faucit in her charming book on Shakespeare's 
heroines conjectured that Imogen did not live long after 
she was reunited to Posthumus : we may say the same 
of Anne, — and that her husband did not re-marry. He 
would have fared like Jane Austen's nephews and nieces 
who visited Chawton after her death and expected to be 
happy, but found the charm had disappeared. 

While the novels are collected in our memory we 
will make a late attempt to define concisely the cause 
of their lasting power to please. The small doings of 
a small society written down with perfect balance and no 
prejudice, and rightly related to the whole of contem- 
porary life, would suffice for an age rather than all time : 
although there are moments when an unconscious 
touch so transfigures these small doings that the century- 
clock is put back, and for a space we live in that world, 
among those people, on that afternoon : for instance, 
when Fanny looks out from a window at Mansfield and 
sees the two ladies — Mrs. Grant and Miss Crawford — 
walking up from the Vicarage. But there is also some- 
thing that transcends, — partially expressed and half 
understood with the first, but steadily growing conscious 
and permeating the last. It is that every character, 
grave or gay, is concerned with the same thing, — either 

88 






JANE AUSTEN 

ignoring it, or mistaking it, or preventing others from 
attaining it, or following it by false roads, or at last 
truly seeking it : and that is the foretaste of immortal 
joy on earth. To secure it you must face facts and so 
manage your worldly business that you live the life of 
the spirit — the spirit that knows nothing of death. 



89 



Tlutarch T^evisited 



PLUTARCH REVISITED 

IF a classic is a book that is eternally fresh and can 
teach the last generations, there are few above 
Plutarch's biographies. Because present conditions 
have made hero-worship the dominant religion, the 
pagan world looks nearer across the gulf of the Middle 
Ages. Our world, like the Greek and Roman, absorbs 
all our energy, and excludes time for spiritual com- 
munion. But as man cannot do without religion, he will 
at least not disregard that which is thrust upon him, 
and is forced to worship a greater soul than his own. 
It is only partially true that our age is democratic, for 
the decline of artificial distinctions brings it home that 
nature has made men unequal. This is not to preach the 
obvious doctrine of merit ; for the complete man is no 
creature of a generation ; the throne is badly filled by 
the winner in mere competition ; and even genius 
cannot transfigure plebeian features. In our search for 
the truly great man, we must steer a middle course 
between the Pharisaic regard for appearances and 
externals of the Victorian age and the materialistic 
doctrines of modern democracy. We must also eliminate 
the highest form to which man has attained — the artist 
or mystic, for whom the time is not ripe, — and the lowest 
— the real-politician, who reminds the human race 
of its animal origin. 

There are certain shadowed periods in the history of 
the world when the heavenly stars by which the human 
race has been used to steer are blotted out. Such was 

93 



PLUTARCH REVISITED 

the third century of the Christian era, such is our own, 
when the nations of Europe exhausted by war are faced 
with a sterner struggle to live ; when man, as Carlyle 
once said, walks by the light of conflagrations and to the 
sound of falling cities. Insecurity begets fear, whether 
in the over-taxed professional man, — or the operative 
whom an uncertain foreign market may deprive of his 
work on the morrow, — or the broken-nerved leisure 
classes who anticipate industrial strife, and feel like a 
stab every look of the displaced worker, and shrink 
from the bitter words of the labour leaders. If we are 
to be saved, it can only be by our fellow-man with the 
stronger soul, and we have travelled far from the Vic- 
torian snobbishness depicted by Thackeray and need 
something more than a hereditary duke. 

It sufficed the Victorians to lead an outwardly decent 
life, untroubled by the fear that a sudden catastrophe 
might end their world. The son followed in his father's 
steps, and few strove to exceed the sphere in which they 
were born. If a writer pleased once he was assured of 
future readers by merely imitating himself ; while now, 
if each successive book does not contain some new 
spiritual thing, he is pushed aside. In art and in human 
intercourse man demands reality : he has no time to 
play at living in a dangerous world : like the Victorians, 
who went to church, and dined and visited formally, 
and spared years to mourn for departed friends. 

He is spiritual enough to crave for God, but material 
enough to recognize only as much of the glory of God 
as transfigures an earthly presence. The mind and 
emotions of the poet bring us nearest to heaven, but we 
can only accept him as Friend, not Master, for he is not 
at home on earth, — and it needs slight effort to recall 
the weaknesses and follies of men of artistic genius. 
But we reject entirely the man of business or real- 
politician, in whom is no trace of heavan, because 
he believes in material efficiency and unlimited com- 
petition, and that all men are born enemies, — and 

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sees only their worst side and lowest motives. With 
him we reject the self-made man, because some 
generations must pass before the individual can cleanse 
himself from the earth that adheres after the struggle, 
— before the body can be perfectly formed and cared 
for and the mind freed from suspicion. " Nature's 
gentleman " is more true in theory than practice, and 
a good heart and a great mind by themselves suffice as 
little as the highest breeding without spiritual force. 

We reject the poet because he rules by love only — 
for which the world is not ripe — and he cannot command 
men ; and we reject the real-politician — whether in 
affairs of state or business — whether he is Prussian 
Chancellor or Manchester or Chicago Captain of Industry 
— because he can only command. It is in heroic action — 
the General, the Statesman — that we discover our Master 
and Friend, and because he is both we wish him not to 
be perfect. The most fascinating pages of biography 
narrate its subjects personal habits, but it is falsely 
said that we spy out a great man's faults from envy. 
If the eye lights up and the attention quickens to read of 
Napoleon's rages, Wellington's love-affairs, Marl- 
borough's avarice, the debts of Chatham and Pitt, — it 
is that by their weaknesses they appear human as our 
selves. They reveal the Friend which we require as 
much as the Master to lead us from the City of Destruc- 
tion and make us believe that the New Jerusalem is more 
than " an anxious wish, a great Perhaps." 

Plutarch is our best instructor in hero-worship be- 
cause he shows us human presence acting directly on 
the world : neither removed by the deep gulf of medita- 
tion of the Middle Ages nor the formulas and officialism 
of modern life : we shall see how Pompey fought a prema- 
ture battle rather than disappoint his friends. We gave 
reasons for rejecting the self-made man, but as we open 
Plutarch and turn to the life of Marius, we realize, from 
his central episode, that in time of crisis only strength 
can save the world. He was born obscurely, and rose 

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by hard work and self-denial, practising old Roman 
virtues, and, as General, delighting the soldiers by shar- 
ing their toils. But this, as well as the piteous wanderings 
of later years, and the blood-red sunset of the close, 
interest because they happened to him who hurled 
back the Cimbri and Teutones and saved Rome from 
the greatest danger that had ever threatened her. When 
news came that the barbarian host was advancing like 
the ocean, small respect was shown for members of 
noble families who proffered themselves for the command, 
and Marius was chosen as alone able to meet the tempest 
of so great a war. Then were forgotten his faults — that 
he never sacrificed to the Graces, or thought it worth 
while to learn Greek, — that he lacked " agreeableness 
of conversation, " was ignorant of civil life, and only 
excelled in war. When he sued for the consulship and 
addressed the people, be belied his own character by 
striving to be popular and obliging ; his undaunted 
presence of mind in battle forsook him, and he was 
easily upset by praise or blame. But now that Rome 
must fight for her existence he was admired the more — 
if not loved — for his violent spirit, stern voice, and 
harsh aspect, — because these things would seem terrible 
to the enemy. He becomes greater as the reports of the 
foe become more awful : how they were terrible to look 
upon and uttered strange cries and shouts ; how, in 
crossing the Alps, they despised cold and fatigue, and 
slid down precipices on their shields. Marius wisely 
declined battle, and kept his soldiers within bulwarks 
till they were used to the sight of the barbarians, — and 
then fought and overcame, and triumphed. We think 
of this when he was driven from Rome by Sylla, and, 
treacherously put ashore by the sailors he had trusted, 
wades through marshes to a peasant's hut and begs on 
his knees to be saved. Even when fortune is again 
reversed, and he returns to Rome and commits unspeak- 
able horrors, we still remember that once he was trans- 
figured and like a god among men. 

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Another instance of the purely strong man is Cato 
the Younger, who, unlike Marius, is morally strong. 
He too was brought up austerely and cared nothing for 
finer things, but, as a boy, was rough to those who 
flattered him, and willed only justice. He despised 
ornament either of dress or speech : while travelling 
in Asia he sat on his own luggage, and, when praetor, 
caused some scandal by coming to court without shoes. 
Like Marius he was more soldier than officer, and the 
affection that he won came unsought. All his life he 
warred against corruption, and he lived at a time when 
old Roman virtues were declining, the Republic totter- 
ing, and the death-grapple between Caesar and Pompey 
for absolute power impending over the city. The 
transparently sincere man, devoted to justice, set in a 
corrupt world, made no personal enemy. He was terrible 
and severe in the senate and at the bar, yet after the 
thing was over, his manner to all men was perfectly 
friendly and humane. He had prosecuted Murena, 
whom Cicero triumphantly defended, and Murena, when 
consul, bore him no ill-will, and often asked him for 
advice. Caesar and Pompey honoured him : the latter, 
when abroad, commended his wife and children to his 
care ; and Caesar, whom he had consistently opposed, 
grudged him his death. When he saw in the manipu- 
lated consular elections a conspiracy to subvert the 
constitution and parcel out the empire, he supported 
another candidate, — enduring blows and wounds, con- 
tinuing to speak when pulled down by a serjeant, and 
when forced out of the forum, returning again and again. 
Having resolved to take his own life, he read Plato's 
treatise on the soul, but he struck his slave violently for 
removing his sword. 

To compare the selfless Cato with the self-seeking 
Marius, because both were simply strong men, may 
seem absurd, but we must bear in mind that we are 
awaiting an ideal hero. Both Marius and Cato were 
heroes of a crisis, material in the first case, moral in the 

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second, — when earth is nearer to hell than heaven ; 
and the struggle for self-preservation, in nations as in 
men, is but the beginning of things. It might be fitter 
to compare Cato with Aristides whose devotion to 
justice was equally single-minded ; who served his 
country for no reward, and not only discarded riches 
but even glory ; who brought in his bills by other 
persons lest Themistocles should oppose him on prin- 
ciple ; who, when ostracised, prayed that Athens might 
never have occasion to remember him. There is some- 
thing of the moral dawn with Cato, and sunset with 
Aristides : the one belongs to a world still young, the 
other to a world grown old. Aristides seems partly to 
decline worldly honours because he has inherited an 
older civilization and is nearer to the view-point that all 
is vanity. His one earthly tie was that he gloried in being 
poor, and we may parallel this with Cato's Platonic 
reading, and Marius's dying gesture — which recalls 
Bismarck — his complaint that he must die before he 
had attained his desire — which does show a stirring of 
the waters of the spirit, though foully mudded. 

With Marcellus we move a stage upwards in Roman 
psychology — the man who could do and dare as bravely 
as the harshest, yet divined higher things. He admired 
Greek learning, and honoured those who excelled in it, 
though himself hindered by a life of fighting from 
completing his education. He took Syracuse, and wept 
to think that the rich and beautiful city must be made 
dismal and foul, but he dared not refuse the plunder 
to his army. Nothing affected him like the death of 
Archimedes, and he sought out and honoured his 
kindred. Till now Rome had ignored the arts, and 
refined persons shuddered at the city stuffed with 
barbarous arms and spoils stained with blood. Mar- 
cellus took back beautiful ornaments, and was even 
blamed by elder men for diverting the common people 
to vain and idle talk about curious things. He yielded 
to those who grudged him a third triumph, and, setting 

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aside the " martial, terrible triumph," entered the city 
in ovation, wearing a garland of myrtle, — preferring to 
excite love and respect rather than fear. And yet, when 
charged by the Syracusans whom his enemies had 
brought over, he left his consul's curule chair and 
answered them like a private man, but struck greater 
consternation into their hearts by the power of his 
presence in his robe of state than in his armour. 

There still clings to Marcellus something of early 
Rome, of the soul emerging like the sun rising in mists 
that blur its rays. Pompey announces a higher stage of 
culture, and he would be the ideal hero, but one greater 
is to follow ; and even so, being soft-mannered and 
iron-handed, he is greater than those heroes of the mind 
like Cicero and Brutus. The one lacked personal cour- 
age, the other knowledge of men, and so their great 
souls were mistakenly reflected in the earthly mirror. 
Pompey combined gentleness and dignity, and all through 
his career won from the Romans a devotion they had 
accorded to no other. As a mere youth he gained 
marvellous military successes all over the world, and 
triumphed before he was a senator. Though older men 
looked askance, he was given unlimited power to deal 
with the pirates, and in three months he scoured the 
seas, pardoning those that surrendered, and restoring 
them to civilized life, arguing that man is not wild by 
nature, but is made so by vicious habit, and may grow 
gentle again. Chosen to fight Mithridates, he was 
voluntarily raised to that absolute power which Sylla 
had won by force. He conquered as far as Syria and 
Judaea, and was no less famed for his justice than his 
might in arms. By his third triumph over Asia — his 
former were over Africa and Europe — he seemed to 
have led the whole world captive. Of more intimate 
things, we note that he charmed all, so that for his sake 
men endured his covetous and oppressive lieutenants ; 
that he was seduced by the vile Clodius to forsake Cicero, 
and, when the latter sought him, escaped by a back door ; 

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that he neglected public affairs to pass the time with his 
wife on whom he doted, and, when mocked by the 
people, took it ill because he was unused to hear any- 
thing disagreeable of himself ; that he favoured his 
friends in official matters. Meanwhile Caesar grown 
famous in Gaulish wars, was intriguing and counter- 
mining, and the death of Crassus left the two face to face. 
When civil war broke out and Pompey left Rome, his 
conduct of the war was blamed, but he himself still 
loved. Having collected a splendid army, double that 
of Caesar, he might have triumphed by biding his time, 
but he engaged battle prematurely because he could not 
bear reproach, or resist expectation of friends. So he 
fought and lost Pharsalia, and from lord of half the world 
became a fugitive, — to be done to death by assassins on 
the coast of Africa. Plutarch adds the harrowing touch, 
that his wife, from the ship, saw the small boat might 
not turn back, because the shore was covered with 
soldiers, and lamented for him as already dead. 

Caesar would not have escaped by back doors, or 
over-loved his wife, or been deflected by personal 
reasons for refusing battle. If he did greater things 
than Pompey it was because he made his heart serve 
his head. Pompey's human kindness flowed out upon 
the world ; Caesar husbanded his emotional stream to 
turn the wheel of ambition. He assumed an affable 
manner to win popularity, and, when his young wife 
died, pronounced a funeral oration in her praise, against 
all precedent, so that people might regard him as tender- 
hearted. He spent ten years in conquering Gaul, and 
showed himself a commander second to none in history ; 
and he used the wealth which victory brought him to 
secure the favour of the Romans. Like an expert wrestler 
he trained himself and his army in Gaul for the duel 
with Pompey which the death of Crassus made inevit- 
able. Before crossing the Rubicon and opening the 
flood-gates of civil war, we do find him meditating in 
human fashion over the calamities he would bring upon 

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mankind, and the verdict of future generations ; and he 
shed tears at the tokens of Pompey's death. He par- 
doned, even honoured, many who had fought against 
him, thinking to found his power more safely on the 
people's love. We are more impressed by instances of 
Nelson's personal valour in combat than Napoleon's, 
because Nelson was human like Pompey, whereas 
Caesar's daring is like that of Napoleon. Caesar was 
small, spare, and epileptic, but he shrank from no danger 
or labour, and never made weakness an excuse for ease. 
When he fought in person against the Nervii and saved 
the battle, we recall how Napoleon, in his first Italian 
campaign, grasped a standard and led forward his waver- 
ing troops, or headed the rush upon the bridge swept 
by grape-shot. Even so we admire with reserve, because 
we feel that both used themselves and all men as means 
to the pre-determined end of exalting self. When 
Pompey fell, Caesar could not live on his past, but strug- 
gled with himself as a rival, to eclipse his former actions 
by his future. He planned to march to Parthia and into 
Scythia and return by Germany and Gaul — in a vast 
curve, to bound his empire on all sides by the ocean : 
and he died because he wished to be king. " When 
that the poor have cried, Caesar hath wept," spoke 
Shakespeare's Antony in the funeral oration. Shake- 
speare versified whole sentences and even paragraphs 
from his originals in the Roman plays, but we find nothing 
in Plutarch to correspond with this beautiful line. 

Caesar is Master, but not Master and Friend like 
Pompey, and yet perhaps the greatest Roman would 
be more fitly compared to the greatest Greek conqueror. 
Alexander pursued glory, and even feared that his father 
might conquer all before he had a chance, and when he 
could push his Indian expedition no further, prayed to 
the gods that no one might ever surpass him. He, too, 
shunned pleasures of sense and used his body hardly, 
but, unlike Caesar, his mind reacted in a disinterested 
way to his human circle. He loved conversation, and 

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even indulged in boasting ; was a tender and anxious 
friend ; and only became cruel when he heard someone 
had spoken ill of him, — for he valued glory and reputa- 
tion beyond life and kingdom. He permitted the sack 
of Thebes and was afflicted by remorse throughout his 
life. Caesar, like Bismarck, preferred real to apparent 
power, once observing that he would rather be the first 
man in a village than second in Rome ; and we doubt 
if he would have cared to know, in the world of shadows, 
that it was his spirit which conquered at Philippi. 

The Greek mind was a finer thing than the Roman, 
and responded less immediately to the fact, because, in 
the interval between stimulus and response, it had to 
visit a larger circle of ideas. Caesar did not fail morally 
like Themistocles or Alcibiades, yet their unmoral 
paths led them within sight of a region so far obscured 
from every Roman but Pompey. To exalt self was their 
prime object ; and we read of Alcibiades that he had 
this peculiar talent and artifice for gaining men's affec- 
tions, — that he could at once comply with and really 
embrace and enter into their habits and ways of life, and 
change faster than the chameleon, affecting either virtue 
or vice as it pleased him : and, of Themistocles, that he 
hoped never to sit on that tribunal where his friends 
might not plead a greater privilege than strangers, Even 
these crooked by-paths led them towards a country 
impossible for the fair Roman highway. They saw, 
though with earth-distracted vision, that the ultimate 
reality is the communion of souls, not codes of laws and 
principles made by man. The Roman mind worked 
in a line to and from the fact, like the law of gravity ; 
the Greek performed a fuller orbit because it let itself 
be distracted by opinion and hearsay and wish to seem 
something it was not. The Olympian Pericles wore a 
pompous manner, and declined friendly visiting, because 
a grave exterior is hardly maintained among friends, 
and assumed superiority readily unmasked. Yet, hav- 
ing coaxed and flattered his countrymen with delights 

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and pleasures, like children, and bribed them with 
public moneys, and given Greece her public monu- 
ments, — when at last he had got all power into his hands, 
he became another man, — less tame and gentle with 
the populace, — though we read of no bloody proscrip- 
tions as at Rome, or armed men pouring into the 
Assembly. He led the people with their own consent, 
using his divine orator's gift, in Plato's words, to govern 
their souls by addressing the affections and passions, — 
prevailing even more by his character, being uncorrupted 
and indifferent to money. Whether his indifference in 
domestic trouble — abstaining from the funerals of his 
kindred — was real or assumed, we do not know ; but 
when his remaining son died, he was vanquished by 
grief as he crowned the corpse with a garland. 

To mention Nicias after Pericles is like the moon 
compared to the sun, and his reserve lasted throughout 
his career. Too cautious to dine out or talk with his 
friends, hard of access, he won upon the people by 
seeming afraid of them. But the link between the two 
worlds — the Roman world of action, and the Greek 
world of action and imagination, is provided by the 
orators — Demosthenes and Cicero. Demosthenes went 
as ambassador through the Greek States, and by the 
power of his eloquence united them in a general league 
against Philip of Macedon. He prevailed even with 
the obstinate Thebans, so that Philip sent heralds to 
treat for peace. But he, once surrounded and courted 
by the commanders of all the armies, deserted his post 
in battle and threw away his arms. A similar lack of 
courage was charged against Cicero, — and in exile he 
appeared poor-spirited, humiliated, and dejected by his 
misfortunes. Even in speaking he began timidly and 
scarcely desisted from trembling when he was well 
launched into the current of his speech. When he 
defended Milo, the sight of troops encamped round the 
Forum and the glitter of arms so unnerved him, that 
he could hardly begin his speech because his body shook 

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and tongue halted. Yet he approaches the Greek nearer 
than Pompey or Brutus, the two other finest Roman 
minds. It was not public indifference that abated his 
early ambition, but the thought that the glory he con- 
tended for was an infinite thing, and there was no fixed 
end nor measure in its pursuit. Yet he always delighted 
in hearing himself praised, even offending people by 
praising himself ; and he did to others as he would 
himself be done by, never inflicting punishment with 
reproach on those under his command, never in his anger 
using words that hurt, causing no one to be beaten. 
Even when he saved Rome by unmasking Catiline, who 
designed to massacre the senate and others and fire the 
city, having allotted hundreds to kindle fire and stop 
the aqueducts, — he hesitated to inflict death. It is a 
trait to be noted that on his second journey to Greece 
he visited the friends of his youth ; and we well believe 
that the feud with Antony sprang from the difference 
of their manners. The circumstances of Pompey's fate 
are repeated in a fashion yet more ghastly, because it is 
a finer head that falls. We hold our breath while his 
servants, divided in their counsels, hurry him this way 
and that in his litter, till, betrayed by the youth he had 
educated, he himself commands the litter to be set down 
in the shady walks and turns his grief-worn face upon 
the assassins. 

Among the morally great is Brutus, who was loved by 
all and not even hated by his enemies. No flattery 
could prevail on him to hear an unjust petition : he 
spared himself no labour, was insensible of the passions 
of anger, pleasure, covetousness, — and inflexible to 
maintain his purpose for what he thought right and 
honest. He exceeds Cato because he added learning 
and philosophy to a good disposition, and would employ 
his spare time in camp in reading and study, even the day 
before a battle. 

But the moralist's reward is not in this world, and we 
are seeking an earthly king. Brutus pleases less than 

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Pompey, but we promised to touch a greater life than 
Pompey's, and the reader of Plutarch will be half shocked 
to hear that we put forward Antony. Not that his faults 
are forgotten : his early ostentatious, vaunting temper, 
full of empty flourishes and unsteady efforts for glory, — 
his drinking-bouts at all hours, his wild expenses, his 
gross amours, the day spent in sleeping or walking off 
his debauches, the night in revelling with buffoons. On 
his journeys, he quartered loose women and singing girls 
on the houses of serious fathers and mothers of families ; 
he deprived persons of worth and quality of their fortunes 
to gratify villains and flatterers ; once he gave his cook 
the house of a Magnesian citizen as a reward for a 
single successful supper. But even these are trifles 
compared to his share in what Plutarch calls the cruellest 
transaction that had ever taken place — the proscriptions 
that followed his reconciliation with Octavius, when they 
exchanged blood for blood, and his first victim was 
Cicero. Nay more, at the sight of Cicero's severed head 
and hand, he burst out in laughter, and caused them to 
be hung over his place in the forum. Yet we are told 
that Cassar by dealing gently with his errors did much 
to cure him ; that in misfortune he was most nearly 
a virtuous man ; that he endured incredible hardships 
in crossing the Alps, drinking foul water and eating 
wild roots, sharing the tasks of the common soldiers, 
and inspiring a personal devotion in them beyond any 
other Roman general. He was simple, and ignorant of 
things done in his name, and when his faults were pointed 
out, he repented sincerely and asked pardon : as when 
told that Asia had raised two hundred thousand talents 
for his service. He was not subtle enough to see that 
persons who spoke out boldly were parasites ; though sharp 
of tongue himself, he accepted repartee with good humour ; 
and he made friends of persons by helping them in their 
love affairs. It was Cicero's bitter speeches, telling the 
people details of his gross pleasures, and denouncing him 
as author of the civil war, that cut him to the quick. 

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Such marks of sensitiveness would not have condoned 
his vices and cruelties but for the crowning episode of 
his life — his love of Cleopatra. Antony was an artist, 
but, being also general, statesman, orator, he could shape 
the world to his wish and build his whole life into a 
poem. His ill deeds — bestowing a citizen's property 
on a jester who had pleased him for the moment — 
show a great spirit overlooking material considerations. 
Haunted by a vision of beauty, it was natural that he 
should see it in a woman's form, Because earth was 
mixed with heaven he was no Platonic lover, and because 
heaven was mixed with earth he neglected external 
things, as the poet may but the man of affairs may not. 
To pass the winter with Cleopatra he pushed on a war 
before its due time, and once put off war with the Par- 
thians when they were disabled by internal disputes. 
He let Cleopatra over-rule him to fight at sea at Actium, 
though his navy was weaker than the enemy and his army 
stronger ; and, when the issue hung doubtful, because 
Cleopatra took fright and fled, he followed and abandoned 
all who were fighting and dying for him. In the last 
scene, as life ebbs from the self-inflicted wound, the 
flame of the spirit burns clear, and he bids her not pity 
but rejoice for him in remembrance of his past happiness. 

He is above Caesar, above the just Cato and the juster 
Brutus, even above Pompey and the finer-minded 
Greeks — Pericles who gave Athens beautiful monuments 
unsurpassed to-day — Alexander who conquered to India 
but respected his royal women captives, esteeming it 
more kingly to govern himself than conquer his enemies. 
What we noted in passing of Pompey and Themistocles 
and Alcibiades is fully expressed by Antony. He saw 
the individual as the centre of life, and, the fates having 
granted him world-power, he expended nations' treasuries 
and put battles aside for the individual's sake. To him 
most of all pagans, heaven was revealed in the individual 
soul, and he dismissed moral systems and codes of laws 
and armies and kingdoms as secondary matters. His 

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religion, like the poet's, had much of sense, yet he attained 
the last truth : that the great soul, expressed by the 
perfect form, is God's deputy on earth, whose commands 
must be obeyed, whether or not they overturn the 
established order of the world. 

Antony did not crush the individual like Caesar, prefer 
causes and abstract justice like Brutus, or escape by a 
back door like Pompey ; though he might forswear 
himself and promise the same thing to two persons ; 
and we know that he listened impatiently to petitions. 
But because he never overlooked the individual, the 
power of his presence reacted equally upon the world, 
and he is the Master and Friend. Twice he stopped 
an army in flight and re-gained victory, and he kindled 
such love in the soldiers that they set his good opinion 
above their lives. When Actium sealed his doom he 
entreated his friends to leave him, comforted them with 
all imaginable goodness and humanity, and offered them 
a treasure-ship, which they refused with tears. He was 
noble and eloquent, with frank and open manners and 
liberal and magnificent habits, familiar in talk with 
everybody, and he pitied and helped the sick. Once 
in Asia, kings waited at his door, and queens rivalled 
one another to make him the greatest presents or 
appear most charming in his eyes. He was a mag- 
nificent man, with well-grown beard, large forehead, 
aquiline nose, and bold masculine look that suggested 
Hercules. 

We have found our Master and Friend, but before 
leaving Plutarch we will moor his galley of heroes along- 
side a northern quay and suffer a modern figure to step 
down among them. Can it be that the fire of genius in 
their eyes burns dimmer, and their facial lines look 
simpler by contrast ? Between the fifth and fifteenth 
centuries man found his soul, but the stress of modern 
life exacted that he should re-materialize himself and 
acquire a neo-pagan character. The process was one of 
pain, for he had to reckon with the resisting power of 

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his deepest self, — and the result is writ large in his 
tortured countenance. 

We will turn to the world's third greatest biographer 
— assuming Plutarch and Boswell to hold the first places 
— and study Carlyle's portrait of Frederick William, 
maker of modern Prussia, and father of Frederick the 
Great. It was he who realized that fear of God would 
no longer deter nations from preying upon each other, 
and that if a nation grew rich without a perfectly drilled 
army, that nation would perish — more especially his 
own which had no natural frontiers. That he thought 
truly the sequel proved, when, after Austria's defeat 
at Mollwitz, all the Powers except England repudiated 
Pragmatic Sanction. As Crown Prince he had under- 
stood that the army was the heart and pith of Prussia, 
and as king he sacrificed all to make it efficient. It be- 
came his life-business to shape Prussia after his own 
image — into a thrifty, hardy, rigorous, and Spartan 
country. He reduced the royal household to the lowest 
footing of the indispensable, cutting down things to 
below the fifth ; he went through every department of 
Prussian business, requiring needful work to be rigor- 
ously well done, and imaginary work pitched out of 
doors. He saved money yearly and deposited it in 
barrels in his Castle cellars. He drilled not only the 
army but the whole nation, striking loungers over the 
head with his cane, and not letting even Apple-women 
sit without knitting. He had bogs drained, colonies 
planted, manufactures established ; he reared tight 
human dwellings on what were once scraggy waste 
places. His recruiting methods cast an anxious shadow 
over the whole rural population. 

And yet this king, of short, firm stature, with severe 
eyes and nasal voice, a harsh master and almost half mad, 
was sensitive as a poet or a woman. How severely he 
struggled to subdue his soul and organize his world 
to be materially efficient only, we can see from his rela- 
tions with his son. Frederick William was German to 

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the core ; the son craved for those Athenian-French 
delicacies which the father had swept from his Court. 
The Prince — afterwards to be Frederick the Great — 
disliked soldiering and hunting, and instead of joining 
in sow-baiting, would retire into a glade and play the 
flute with his friends, or converse with Mamma and her 
ladies. The King had commanded the Prince's tutors 
to infuse in him a true love of soldiering, and forbidden 
him to learn Latin or lingo of old dead heathens. How 
the Prince let his blond locks grow in Versailles fashion, 
how he read fiction, how he shut himself up with a 
Latin instructor, and how the King burst in and smote 
down on the instructor with his cane : all this is written 
in Carlyle's great chapters. 

Carlyle rightly divined the King to be sensitive as a 
poet or woman, and also rightly describes him as a 
terrible king or father. The anger of a materialized 
person is terrible, because the laws of his world are 
beyond doubt. In the spiritual world we can prove 
nothing, — neither that God exists nor that our friends love 
us ; but we detect the bungler in an army manoeuvre, 
or the mason who builds a house that is not rain-proof. 
No doubt the King read rightly the signs of the times, — 
that if the army failed, his country was lost, and was 
therefore deaf to the warning against care and advice to 
take no thought for the morrow. The sceptical eighteenth 
century turned love to fear in the hearts of many, and 
because fear is the cruellest passion, and this King had 
a deep soul, the result appears in his unhappy household 
and apprehensive subjects. Christianity had taught 
men to sacrifice this world to another ; and neo-pagan- 
ism, or the cult of material efficiency, likewise required 
continuous self-denial. But the disharmony was that 
the fears and anxieties stored by the soul through the 
watches of the long night of the Middle Ages were 
expended upon temporal things. Like the business man 
who despises all but money-making. Frederick William 
spent his life in fortifying himself against every imagin- 

109 



PLUTARCH REVISITED 

able mischance. There are times when the soul does 
break through the hard earthly crust, at the cost of pain 
that mortal man can scarcely bear : these are when the 
road of life leads near the Valley of the Shadow. When 
the Queen fell ill and was in danger, he was like to break 
his heart ; and when George I died, and no one else 
cared, he wept tenderly for the uncle who had been 
good to him as a boy. His heart did all but break when 
his son, whom he had ill-treated, planned to fly : never- 
theless he condemned him as a Colonel who had tried 
to desert ; and his accomplice — the unfortunate Katte — 
had indeed to die. We think of the King's grief and 
remember how Antony enjoyed killing Cicero and in- 
sulted the mortal remains ; but in the interval man's 
soul had gone down to hell and ascended again to heaven. 
But if it needed the stimulus of death to make Frederick 
William doubt whether this outer world which so 
troubled him was indeed a real thing, how much more 
when his own hour struck, and he had to leave behind 
him the twin supports of well-drilled army and full 
treasury and walk the plank of his life-vessel alone 1 
The materialized and angry man became his true self — 
the womanly-sensitive poet. He would bear no faces 
about his sick bed except those he liked, and he feared 
to be left alone with the clergyman who reminded him 
of certain tyrannous acts he had committed. As for the 
next world, he doubted it no more than Potsdam and the 
giant grenadiers. 

But as our theme is Plutarch let us end with Plutarch 
and measure the parting gulf by re-comparing Frederick 
William with the Roman whom he most resembled — 
Marcus Cato — known as Cato the Censor. He too 
placed frugality and temperance above all the virtues, 
and was more famed for his simple life than his eloquence. 
When consul he drank the same wine as his workmen, 
and eschewed handsome slaves in favour of the able 
and sturdy, reckoning nothing superfluous a good 
bargain. The humane Plutarch blames him for taking 

no 



PLUTARCH REVISITED 

the work out of his servants as out of brute beasts, and 
turning them off and selling them in their old age, — as 
if there should be no further commerce between man 
and man than what brings profit. He regretted all his 
life that he had once spent a day without doing any- 
business of moment. He wished to be censor because 
it enabled him to enquire into everyone's life and 
manners : and having attained the office, he threat- 
ened evil livers, retrenched people's luxury, and assessed 
luxurious things at ten times their worth, to increase 
the taxes on them. He would have approved the 
Prussian King's choice of wooden furniture only, to 
avoid dust. As Frederick William excluded Latin 
from practical education, and banished Wolf because he 
was told his philosophy might subvert discipline in the 
army, and derived the trouble with his son from foreign 
books, — so Cato despised philosophy, scoffed at Greek 
studies, and pronounced like an oracle that Greek 
literature would destroy Rome. In each was the same 
conscious dumb ignorance of all things beyond his own 
small horizon of personal survey. Cato wrote a book 
on country matters, and Frederick William's semi- 
articulate writings on economics were as if done by the 
paw of a bear. As Frederick William dreaded the ring 
of potential foes round Prussia, so Cato's saying, " Car- 
thage must be destroyed," became a proverb. 

But we look on Cato's grim countenance and reflect 
that it cost him no pains to be himself. He excused 
his avaricious humour, and affirmed that he was a 
wonderful, nay, a godlike man, who left more behind 
him than he had received : whereas in Frederick 
William was much internal modesty, self-distrust, 
anxiety. Both lived outer lives, but Frederick William 
had to forget the Middle Ages and his soul. Cato 
would thrust his " Carthage must be destroyed " into 
every debate in the senate, whether occasion fitted or 
no, but he was never haunted in his sleep by Carthaginian 
terrors and imaginings, and he did not suspect his son 

in 



PLUTARCH REVISITED 

of conniving with his country's enemies, and bully 
and strike him. In the pagan world man was respon- 
sible to men ; in the Middle Ages to God ; the perils 
of the modern world have distracted man from God 
and forced him to acquire a neo-pagan character, — to 
deny his soul and forsake his brother : and how agonising 
that process may be we learn from this extreme instance. 



112 



Qeorge Borrow 



GEORGE BORROW 

WHEN the Life of Borrow, by Dr. Knapp, appeared 
in 1899, the Spectator hazarded the doubt whether 
there still remained persons who took interest in his 
works. For nearly a decade after this lugubrious com- 
ment the silence was unbroken. In 1908, however, 
came Mr. Waiting's book ; and a significant feature 
of the years that followed was the inclusion of Borrow's 
works in the countless reprints of standard authors that 
were pouring from the press. In 191 2 were published 
two further biographies ; and in July, 1913, the news- 
papers gave prominence to the celebrations in his 
honour at Norwich. Later still appeared Mr. Clement 
Snorter's George Borrow and his Circle, which again 
emphasized the ephemeral nature of his success with 
the Bible in Spain in 1843, an< ^ tne complete oblivion 
by the public which he suffered thereafter. 

Borrow has been described as a cross between Carlyle 
and Sir Richard Burton, with a touch of the Brontes. 
It is not easy to trace any resemblance to the last, save 
that he was of Celtic parentage and had the Celtic 
melancholy and foreboding habit. His simple and 
natural style is as unlike theirs as indeed it is to Carlyle's. 
It reveals nothing of the mental agitation of Villette and 
the Latter-Bay Pamphlets. Yet apart from the form of 
his writings there are some notable points of resemblance 
to Carlyle, in the violence of his splenetic outbursts, 
the ruggedness of his personality, and his failure to find 
happiness in the practice of his art. The beauty of 

115 



GEORGE BORROW 

Borrow's domestic life forbids the further analogy that 
he was " gey ill to live with " x ; yet it was characteristic 
of him that he never admitted his own dog to be in the 
wrong when that quadruped entered the lists with a 
neighbour's. The prejudices of both men were the 
effect of outraged sensibility. Carlyle took life with 
terrible seriousness and had stern ideals of what man 
should be ; yet among his friends were certain un- 
strenuous persons. One of them was Leigh Hunt, 
his neighbour in Chelsea, the reason for their friendship 
being the interchange of courtesies that neighbourhood 
allows ; and Carlyle's crust of ill nature melted at the 
touch of personal kindness. Borrow's last years were 
spent in almost total seclusion from the world, because 
the decline of his reputation placed him, as he thought, 
at a disadvantage. It was the sensitiveness of his youth 
renewed, when, having failed on his first journey to 
London to find a publisher for his ballads, he feared to 
return to Norwich lest people should inquire after their 
fate. Both Borrow and Carlyle had the " soft " tempera- 
ment, which, as Lord Morley once said, is " easily 
agitated," and the disturbance, although it does not 
cause " true anger or lasting indignation, sends 
quick currents of eager irritation along the sufferer's 
nerves." 

As Burton's writings are not high art, comparison 
would be unfruitful ; but the lives of the two men 
present points of close similarity. In both a desultory 
education fostered a love of wandering, for which enor- 
mous physical strength and indomitable courage fitted 
them. Burton loved to disguise himself, Borrow to 
affect mystery, and assume that he knew all and was 
known of none. And yet both had the simplicity of 
character which, alone among great men, Macaulay 
denied to the elder Pitt. They lacked the facile pessi- 
mism of the man of the world as much as his worldly 

1 Fuller acquaintance with Carlyle's story has shown how Froude 
misapplied this phrase. 

116 



GEORGE BORROW 

wisdom. It appears in Burton's tenure of the Damascus 
consulship, his relations with Speke, and his failure to 
visit England on the conclusion of his journey to Mecca, 
when the country was ringing with his fame ; while 
Borrow consumed his youth in translating Danish 
ballads, hoping to win thereby permanent reputation : 
in contrast to his astute colleague Bowring, who pursued 
the same task solely as a means to secure a consular 
appointment. 

Borrow was half man of action and half poet. It is 
from action that his imaginative force derives ; and 
although he failed as a maker of verse, and his fame 
rests upon four volumes of prose, the cast of his mind 
was poetic ; the intellectual yields to the emotional. 
The effect of weak reasoning powers on the main course 
of his life is but too apparent. It led him into many a 
blind alley of effort, and retarded the development of 
his powers. He was neither indolent nor lacked per- 
severance nor concentration — three shortcomings which 
before now have withheld success from gifted men or 
deferred it till late in life. At school he was considered 
of less than average ability : although there is no 
authority for the statement, it is possible that he learnt 
his Euclid by heart. As a youth, his father pronounced 
him unfitted for any profession ; and, being placed in 
a solicitor's office, he neglected the law and mastered the 
Welsh language. And yet his philological studies were 
without scientific groundwork ; he acquired languages 
because he had a prodigious memory for words, and, 
following the line of least resistance, he imposed the 
whole tax upon his memory. He failed as a hack author 
in London, and, with his usual love of mystification, 
created the legend of the " veiled period," so as to 
disguise from the public the sordid actualities of his 
seven lean years ; and to this period, in after life, he 
liked reference as little as did Dr. Johnson to that 
preceding 1755, when the publication of the Dictionary 
made his circumstances easy. The growth of experience 

117 



GEORGE BORROW 

and comparison of past failures, rather than reason, 
taught him what kind of pains to take ; and the accident 
of his appointment to the Bible Society provided the 
circumstances which gave his powers full play. 

The years which Borrow passed in Spain, as agent to 
the Society, were perhaps the happiest in his life. They 
supplied the constant change, for lack of which in after 
years his nature languished and black thoughts swarmed 
in his mind. To think, with Borrow, was an infallible 
sign of disease ; his metaphysical questionings display 
a mind moving in a circle ; they are the outcome of 
overstrained energies in unfavourable surroundings 
rather than philosophic thirst for knowledge. He 
admitted himself that he was ill qualified to argue : the 
question, What is Truth ? puzzled him as much as its 
first propounder. He could never see more than a 
balance of probabilities, and like many persons with the 
artistic temperament, he was morbidly sensitive to sugges- 
tion. He surrendered his faith without a struggle to 
the attacks of William Taylor of Norwich, and one of 
his projects, on first visiting London at the age of 
twenty-one to try his fortunes as an author, was to 
" abuse religion." Small wonder that his subsequent 
connection with the Bible Society evoked, in the words 
of Harriet Martineau, " one shout of laughter from all 
who remembered the old Norwich days." There is no 
mention in Dr. Knapp's pages of the renascence of 
Borrow's faith, but doubtless it is explained by this 
sentence of Romany Rye : " For a long time I doubted 
the truth of Scripture, owing to certain conceited dis- 
courses which I had heard from certain conceited 
individuals, but now I begin to believe firmly." It was 
the change of circumstances which, restoring him to the 
wandering life for which he was fitted, and removing 
him from the argumentative sphere for which he was 
unfitted, established the harmonious functioning of his 
powers. 

Borrow's first mission in the service of the Bible Society 

118 



GEORGE BORROW 

was to St. Petersburg. It occupied him for two years, 
and on his return he wrote thus to his mother : " I hope 
the Society will employ me upon something new, for I 
have of late led an active life, and dread the thought of 
having nothing to do except studying as formerly, and 
I am by no means certain that I could sit down to study 
now. I can do anything if it is to turn to any 

account " The Society responded to his appeal 

by despatching him to Spain, where he spent four years 
in circulating the Scriptures among the benighted 
peasantry. 

The artistic temperament without the artistic faculty 
is perhaps the heaviest burden that can be laid upon 
mortal man ; yet so puissant is the glamour of great 
art that even the minor poet — in the event of reincarna- 
tion—would choose to be his ineffectual self again and 
see the glorious world go by in the distance rather than 
walk through life as a Philistine : unlike Odysseus in 
the vision of Er, who, disenchanted of ambition, was 
left to the last in his search for the lot of a private man 
without cares. Till the age of thirty-two, Borrow's 
nature had been perplexed by the need for expression, 
and found no adequate relief. Now, less from reasoned 
choice than necessity, he struck the right path. The 
Gypsies of Spain, his first notable work, which stands 
midway between the undistinguished poetry and the 
four books on which his fame rests, was composed as 
he travelled, " in ventas and posadas " ; and the letters, 
expressed in literary form, which he wrote to the Bible 
Society, were subsequently reshaped into the Bible in 
Spain, which scored a phenomenal success in 1843. 

The unique nature of his experiences may have 
ensured the immediate success of Borrow's book, but 
the emotional content gave it permanent value. Richard 
Ford, author of a once famous book on Spain, advised 
Borrow to eschew poetry and descriptions of scenery 
and give exciting facts ; and Borrow partially complied. 
But there is an interest transcending that of incident 

119 



GEORGE BORROW 

and adventure. It arises from his power to annihilate 
himself in the presence of strange people and strange 
places, to make of his mind a white sheet whereon to 
receive impressions. 

Borrow acknowledged Defoe to be his master ; the 
reading of Robinson Crusoe first thawed the ice which bound 
his mind as a child. Watts-Dunton described both as 
masters of the " psychological kind of autobiographic 
fiction/' Defoe heightens the interest in the adventures 
it was his primary object to describe by " humanising " 
them, by " making it appear that they worked a great 
life-lesson for the man who experienced them." But 
the Bible in Spain has not that fear of danger to the 
central figure which makes parts of Robinson Crusoe 
agonizing. How pitiful is the scene where Crusoe is 
all but swept out to sea in his attempt to circumnavigate 
the island, and when the place which had once seemed 
to him a horrible desert now appears to contain all the 
happiness his heart could wish for. How haunting are 
his reflections upon his false security in the years before 
he knew that his island was the resort of cannibals, when 
perhaps the brow of a hill or the casual approach of 
night had come between him and the worst kind of 
destruction. Conversely, when Borrow is fired upon 
by the Portuguese soldiers, we think less of his peril 
than of the perpetrators of the outrage, — the villainous- 
looking ruffians, their livid and ghastly countenances, 
where murder is written, and their harsh, croaking 
voices. And it is the same of his sojourn in the Madrid 
prison. 

The centre of interest is what Borrow sees and what 
he suffers for others, as he goes to and fro in once 
mighty Spain, whence the glory has departed ; crossing 
and recrossing its wild moors, climbing its flinty hills, 
threading the passes of its stupendous mountain-chains, 
and sojourning in strange inns. The mysterious attracts 
him in nature as in man, as when he dwells upon the 
caves or " midnight abysses " of Gibraltar, the depths 

120 



GEORGE BORROW 

of which no one has fathomed, while numbers have lost 
their lives in the attempt. 

Together with this interest is that of the strange people 
with whom he consorted. The intense sympathy revealed 
by Borrow for beings of the vagrant class has led to the 
false assertion that he cared only for " blackguard speci- 
mens of humanity " ; and the Saturday Review », with 
characteristic loss of temper, entitled its article on his 
Life and Letters in 1899, "A Sordid Hero." Like 
Wordsworth, Borrow disliked complex natures, and also 
his sensitiveness hindered that annihilation of self in 
intercourse with his equals without which the mind is 
not set free to consider another's point of view. In 
colloquy with the world's outcasts, or with the mortally 
wounded in the battle of life — with all who did not watch 
and criticize — there was nothing to stem the rich flow 
of sympathy from mind to mind. When he visits the 
Archbishop of Toledo, conversation languishes till 
allusion to a brilliant on the Prelate's finger gives it a 
fillip ; but words do not fail him in the presence of 
Benedict Moll. His treatment of strollers and vaga- 
bonds may be contrasted rather than compared with that 
of Dickens. With Borrow there is a simple transmigra- 
tion of his soul into their bodies ; with Dickens a thou- 
sand threads attach them to their creator, and the 
coloured beams of his fancy cease not to play upon them 
through all their antics. It is in Wordsworth that the 
same quality of self-abnegation where the sympathies 
are enlisted, will be found : in such a poem as the 
Reverie of Poor Susan^ among a host that rise to the mind. 
Both writers had a ready ear for a tale of distress, and 
a simplicity of character which gave it lyric rather than 
dramatic utterance. " That you are no impostor I feel 
convinced," said Borrow to Benedict Moll, the infatuated 
treasure-seeker, when warning him of the fate that 
befalls impostors. In the Madrid prison was a French 
convict, shortly to be garotted, who had served in 
Napoleon's Russian campaign, and plied his trade of 

121 



GEORGE BORROW 

robber in the Landes, yet he summed up his life as 
containing " nothing remarkable. " Borrow writes : 
" I looked him in the face and spoke to him, but he did 
not seem either to hear or see me. His mind was 
perhaps wandering in that dreadful valley of the shadow, 
into which the children of earth, whilst living, occasionally 
find their way." The picturesque setting of these inci- 
dents entitles Borrow to comparison with an author 
far removed in age and race, and the master of the most 
winning and gracious style in the whole of literature. 
The anecdotes with which the history of Herodotus is 
interspersed — such as Croesus and Solon, Cleobis and 
Bito, Polycrates — may be set side by side with those of 
Benedict Moll, Judah Lib, and the crone of Merida. 
But the persons in Herodotus are the puppets of fate ; 
in Borrow they are possessed by an idea — the pursuit of 
wealth, of revenge, of lost kindred — which drives them 
to their doom. 

Two of the most characteristic incidents are the ride 
with the gypsy Antonio, and the journey to Finisterra ; 
and it might be profitable to glance at them as illustrat- 
ing Borrow's peculiar power of blending strange persons 
and places. The first speaks of days spent on wild 
moors strewn with rocks, of descents into ruinous and 
deserted towns, of narrow lanes and a dilapidated house, 
where in a large, dark room dusky figures crouch over 
a brasero ; of the journey renewed over the savage 
moor, of the dismal town and the low, mean hut where 
no answer is returned to a knock. In the second, Borrow 
relates how it was his wish to proceed to Finisterra to 
leave there a single Testament, because the ship which 
carried him to Spain had nearly been dashed to pieces 
against " the rocky sides of this extreme point of the 
Old World." Having with difficulty procured a guide 
to a place so wild and remote, he sets out over flinty 
hills and through stony ravines. The guide appears to 
be half-witted, and when they are benighted on a moor, 
he informs Borrow that so far from knowing the road 

122 



GEORGE BORROW 

to Finisterra, he disbelieves in the existence of such a 
place ; and he is fearful of the spirits of the dead who 
haunt the wildest heath of the wildest province in Spain, 
and ride upon the haze, bearing candles. They pass the 
night in a Gallegan hut as guests of a man who had 
never slept in a bed in his life. Resuming their journey, 
they come within sight of the bold coastline. It was 
such a place as Borrow had conceived in his youth, 
" the termination of the world, beyond which there was 
a wild sea or abyss or chaos." " Such is the grave," he 
exclaims, " and such are its terrific sides." They have 
been warned not to venture among " the drunkards of 
Finisterra," who may play them a trick, but they 
advance along the winding and deserted street. Eyes 
peer at them through the chinks of walls. They tie up 
the horse in what they believe to be the stable of an 
inn ; it is at once untied and driven forth. They ascend 
the huge bluff and gaze out upon the " wilderness of 
waters." Then Borrow returns to the inn and falls 
asleep. From troubled dreams he is violently wakened 
to behold an uncouth figure hanging over him in the 
light of the descending sun. We may repeat what 
Victor Hugo ^aid of Baudelaire, that he had added " a 
new shudder " to literature. Or it affects us as our 
childish minds were affected by a well-remembered 
passage in Grimm's Fairy Tales, of how a wanderer saw 
in strange countries persons with horns and beaks. 

The world which Borrow creates by this fusion of 
action and imagination is not a world of realities, neither 
is it the interpenetration of the real and unseen — the 
light that never was on sea or land, but rather that middle 
region between the two, the world of dreams. The 
Bible in Spain was compiled from genuine letters, and 
is by no means a work of fiction, but it never saw the light 
as a book till it had received the finishing touches of 
Borrow's subconscious mind. 

It was characteristic of Borrow that his next work 
was determined by the suggestions of admirers of the 

123 



GEORGE BORROW 

Bible in Spain. As that work neared completion he had 
exclaimed more than once, " Alas ! what shall I do 
when it is finished ? " He had exhausted his adventures, 
and it was not in him to invent scenes or characters or 
depict manners. In vain his friend Hasfeldt wrote : 
" Your life is at present just what we talked of so often 
in bygone days. You wanted to live in the country a 

quiet, easy life " Neither the happiness of his 

marriage, the ease of his circumstances, or his fame as 
an author could compensate the wanderer for lost liberty. 
From a condition of restlessness and melancholy he was 
roused by the request of friends to prefix a short account 
of himself to the Bible in Spain, to gratify the curiosity 
of readers. It inspired him to write the five volumes of 
autobiography published as Lavengro and Romany Rye 
in 1 85 1 and 1857. Their failure, and the extinction 
of his reputation during his lifetime was due partly to 
misunderstanding by his public, and partly to his own 
unwisdom in abruptly terminating Lavengro and post- 
poning for six years the conclusion of the story of Isopel 
Berners. 

The popular objection to Lavengro was its mingling 
of fact and fiction. The cry arose, " This is very wonder- 
ful, if true ; but if fiction, it is pointless. " At the present 
day we have the facts of Borrow's life in our possession, 
and can discriminate between historical and imaginative 
truth. When Professor Bradley published his Oxford 
Lectures on Poetry, in 1909, the Athenceum described 
him as of the receptive school of criticism, by contrast 
with the active school of Matthew Arnold. His method 
was to judge by the impressions left on the reader's mind, 
that of Arnold, to " block out widely " his author's 
distinctive merits and assess their value by comparison 
with the achievements of others. (Yet it was Arnold 
who selected from the world's great poets half-a-dozen 
surpassing lines for the student to commit to memory 
and use as a touchstone in future reading.) An opinion 
not begot of an impression is like a house with no founda- 

124 



GEORGE BORROW 

tion ; the response given by the reader's impressions 
is the final court of appeal. It is thus hard to believe 
that Borrow's contemporaries accused him of writing 
an " unveracious autobiography,' ' and that this reflected 
back upon the Bible in Spain and weakened their faith 
in it. David Copperfield is a blending of fact and fiction, 
but we do not less enjoy two of its most humorous 
episodes, the fight with the young butcher, and the 
flirtation with Miss Larkins, because they are mythical. 

It is ill-fitting to apply to permanent literature the same 
tests as to the latest novel which creates a furore because 
of its heroine's likeness to some well-known social figure. 
We are not now disposed to quarrel with Borrow because 
he provided bad gossip for his contemporaries ; our 
task is to pass by those portions of the edifice which are 
built of perishable bricks, and seek the temples wrought 
with the old Egyptian secret where stones are laid upon 
each other and no join may be perceived. The con- 
temners of Lavengro were like the ancient unbelievers 
who clamoured for a sign, or the modern ones who 
demand of science objective proof of a ruler of the 
universe, who wish to believe without believing, and to 
attain faith apart from spiritual experience. 

We readily believe Borrow's statement in the Gypsies 
of Spain that he remembers no period when the mention 
of the word gypsy " did not awaken feelings in his mind 
hard to be described, but in which a strange pleasure 
predominated," because of a passage like the following, 
where, speaking of the time when gypsies were first seen 
in Europe, he dispels the false legend that Egypt was 
their home, whence they were banished for having 
denied hospitality to the Virgin and her child : " It 
probably originated amongst the priests and learned men 
of the East of Europe, who, startled by the sudden 
apparition of bands of people foreign in appearance and 
language, skilled in divination and the occult arts, 
endeavoured to find in Scripture a clue to such a phe- 
nomenon. " The test of a true emotion in the author is 

125 



GEORGE BORROW 

the sympathetic thrill which its expression evokes in the 
reader ; and here the words do their work like the 
pollen which the bee carries from flower to flower for the 
process of fertilization. 

The confusion between historical and imaginative 
truth has encouraged the young writer to believe that 
there is a royal road from the base of Parnassus to its 
topmost rock. Mr. J. W. Mackail has first uttered the 
truth that " all poetry is artificial, and the greatest poetry 
that of the most consummate artifice " ; and it was well 
remarked that " bad poets can be very confidential." 
Otherwise, the handbooks assure us that " sincerity is 
genius " ; and the giants of expression, secure in their 
command of the creative faculty, abet them. Carlyle 
exclaims that " he that speaks what is really in him, 
will find men to listen, though under never such impedi- 
ments " ; Emerson, that " he that writes to himself 
writes to an eternal public " ; and Milton's muse 
dictates to him " easy his unpremeditated verse." In 
his early writings Lord Morley animadverted with 
insistence upon the folly of those writers who secluded 
themselves from the world : as if war and politics had 
created the genius of Thucydides and Voltaire. Without 
going so far as Mr. Arthur Symons, who limits Scott's 
output of genuine poetry to Proud Maisie, a song of 
sixteen lines, we can safely say that no experience, 
whether inward or outward, can effect that ultimate 
mastery over words which is creation. Take Shelley's 
famous lines : 

" Most wretched men 
Are cradled into poetry by wrong, 
They learn in suffering what they teach in song," 

and place beside them the couplet with which George 
Eliot concludes her sonnet-sequence, Brother and Sister : 

" But were another childish world my share, 
I would be born a little sister there," 

126 



GEORGE BORROW 

and we see how sincerity and depth of feeling have all 
but done the work of the true faculty. Shelley has piled 
his offering on the altar and fire from heaven has come 
down to consume it ; George Eliot has deftly placed 
hers to catch the rays of the sunset and deceive us with 
a mimic conflagration. 

Prose being a more diffused art than poetry, this is 
true of it in a modified form ; and it behoves the reader 
who follows the windings of Borrow's mind in Lavengro 
and Romany Rye to select those passages which have the 
transmuting touch. And who cannot discriminate 
between such characters as the publisher and the old 
apple-woman on London Bridge ? Both episodes are 
true, but the publisher speaks like a third-rate actor, 
while of the apple-woman we hear the authentic voice. 
Yet a first perusal of Lavengro does leave upon the mind 
an impression of commonplace. It inclines us to echo 
the strictures of its contemporary reviewers, that a life 
of adventure had been unproductive of wisdom and 
reflection. And even when closer study has revealed 
the underlying earnestness, we still regret that the 
autobiography as a whole is not more intensive. 

It appears as if Borrow transcribed his life with its 
succeeding episodes in the simplest language and 
without comment. He recalls objects that pleased the 
child rather for their happy associations than their play 
on an unfolding mind. His first acquaintance with 
Robinson Crusoe is alone touched with that awe with 
which those who re-live their youth in imagination 
approach mental landmarks. Borrow's philosophy may be 
summed up in the phrase that " circumstances are des- 
tiny." The famous John Newton saw a man on his way 
to be hanged, and exclaimed, " There goes John Newton, 
but for the grace of God ! " And so there is no special 
pleading in Borrow's narrative, no futile regrets for the 
past, but a spirit of necessitarianism which marks off his 
work from others of its kind. He is not bowed beneath 
a load of sins like Bunyan, neither has he the self-com- 

127 



GEORGE BORROW 

placency of Gibbon. There is not the impassioned 
regret of St. Augustine for a vicious youth, or Newman's 
anxiety to explain his position to the world. How 
different are the tears he sheds on the banks of the Tweed 
because it is haunted ground, and those of Rousseau 
because he is declining into the vale of years and has not 
known love ! 

All his life Borrow had been exercised in mind on the 
subject of crime and virtue, especially during the period 
of authorship in London when he helped to compile 
the Newgate Lives, and at the time of his sojourn in the 
prison at Madrid. In the latter place was the son of a 
murderer, a boy of seven, much petted and fondled by 
the other prisoners. He writes : " What an enigma is 
this world of ours ! How dark and mysterious are the 
sources of what is called crime and virtue ! If that 
infant wretch became eventually a murderer like his 
father, is he to blame ? " So it is not surprising that he 
re-travels his own road as he remembers it, with no 
deepening of shadows from a fuller experience. Once, 
writing of his father, he says : "I who was so little like 
thee that thou understood'st me not, and in whom with 
justice thou didst feel so little pride, had yet perception 
enough to see all thy worth, and to feel it an honour to 
be able to call myself thy son." But even this wistful 
sentence is less charged with self-reproach than we might 
expect. He tells how the servant describes him as a child 
weak here, pointing to her forehead ; how his father 
misdoubts his fitness for any profession ; how he 
consumed his youthful leisure in learning strange lan- 
guages and associating with strange people. He admits 
to sadly misspending his time, and to have always 
misspent it, " but could I, taking all circumstances into 
consideration, have done better than I had ? " It is 
seldom that Lavengro interrupts his stepping westward 
to look back. When he leaves London ; when he starts 
at the reflection of his face in the water because it is 
squalid and miserable ; when he goes to church where 

128 



GEORGE BORROW 

he had last been as an innocent child, and now he had 
become a moody man : these are some of his departures 
from neutrality. Had Lavengro been a drama, the scene 
of its prologue would have been laid in heaven, and the 
actions of its characters predetermined once and for 
ever. 

It is a passionless atmosphere that recalls the Limbo 
pictured by Dante where the heathen poets dwell without 
joy or sorrow. There is some justification for an earlier 
critic's remark that Lavengro is a portfolio of sketches. 
The characters do not revolve round the central figure 
and possess varying degrees of attraction for each other. 
They move in solitary orbits with their attendant moons, 
and on not all of them is there life. 

When Borrow does depart from his necessitarian 
method and meditates on cause and effect, it is a sign of 
disease. He was a born wanderer, and his mental and 
bodily health depended on change of scene and un- 
tainted air. The period of authorship in London shook 
his constitution to its foundations, and aimless question- 
ings such as this would escape him : " Will a time 
come when all will be forgotten that now is beneath the 
sun ? If so, of what profit is life ? " It is the cry of a 
mind the edge of which has been worn down by work 
for which it is unfitted. He must have felt that most 
painful of all reactions from brain exercise : the same 
weariness and lassitude on sitting down to begin his 
task as if he had toiled at it for hours. He left London 
and took to the roads because his mind was sick and he 
feared consumption. He could not, in the words of 
Musset, 

-vivre entre deux murs et quatre faces mornes, 



Le front sous un moellon, les pieds sur un tombeau. 

And no sooner does the roar of the great city grow faint 
than Lavengro comes to his own and his powers of 
observation revive. Were it not for the apple-woman 
and the Armenian merchant and his dumb clerk, there 

129 



GEORGE BORROW 

is little in the London scenes to haunt the memory. 
When Borrow treats of the publisher, of Francis 
Ardry, or of other town-dwellers, he is ill at ease, and his 
mind, to use a phrase of his own, is dry and unproduc- 
tive. But place him in the grassy lane or by the gypsy 
encampment, and all this is changed. The thoughts 
arrive in their throngs, and he effaces himself as he 
listens to others. He has no righteous horror of thieves 
or cheats, because he feels that had his circumstances 
been similar he might have become as one of them. 
His mind is merely the medium through which the story 
flows upon his page ; it emerges as it left the lips of the 
teller, without colour from his personal idiosyncrasy : 
as the immortal discourse with Jasper Petulengro about 
the wind on the heath. Lavengro narrates the story 
of Peter Williams for its intrinsic worth, not for any 
enriching effect it has upon his own moral nature. His 
mind goes out to his characters, to those possessed by 
one idea which has made them wanderers on the face of 
the earth. And his treatment of nature is identical with 
that of man ; he does not seek nature, he is nature. 
Had he lived in the eighteenth century, as well he might, 
with what vigour would he have refuted Dr. Johnson's 
claim for the superiority of Fleet Street over the fairest 
sylvan scene. The modern dweller in towns is smitten 
with something of religious awe at meadows golden 
with buttercups or fruit trees in blossom. With Borrow 
they are man's rightful heritage, to be enjoyed, not 
worshipped. When Milton decks with flowers the bier 
of Lycidas, he reveals as much of his own mind as of their 
beauty ; but when Shakespeare's Perdita speaks of 
" daffodils that come before the swallow dares, and take 
the winds of March with beauty," it intoxicates us with 
the immortal hope of spring. Borrow wanders in nature's 
garden like one of its lawful possessors. The leafy 
canopy that shelters him from the sun, the cool stream 
to refresh his limbs, the tinkle of falling water, the light 
on grass : all these are not far removed like some 

130 



GEORGE BORROW 

Promised Land, but ever present, and for lack of which 
man shall not grow old in health. 

The episode of Isopel Berners is said to be no excep- 
tion to the almost unnatural calm that broods over 
Borrow's pages. It is accepted as veracious, since Borrow 
never invented a character, and Professor Saintsbury, 
after remarking that there was an absence of passion in 
all his characters and that he was never in love, adds 
that he would not have made himself cut so poor a figure 
without cause. Mr. Seccombe affirms that Borrow's 
normal temper was a cold one, that he was a despiser 
and distruster of young women, and that he dallied with 
the project and insulted Isopel with his irony. Both 
these statements are too sweeping, though it may be 
conceded that Borrow spent the time with Isopel in the 
dingle somewhat strangely in teaching her Armenian. 
But to a man of his temperament, companionship and 
affectionate sympathy sufficed, as was proved by the 
happiness of his marriage to a woman older than himself 
who shared all his thoughts and copied his manuscripts 
for the printer. Actual love-making was alien to his 
nature, and he delighted in Isopel's presence in an 
unconscious manner. The Armenian lessons merely 
filled a gap in their conversations, as the sense in a certain 
kind of poetry is subordinate to the emotions expressed 
indirectly by the sound. Yet it may be doubted whether, 
since the serpent entered Eden, greater happiness 
has been vouchsafed to man than in this instance to 
Borrow. 

Perhaps the strongest case for his detractors is the 
slightness of his regret for Isopel's departure, when every 
succeeding time the temptation to follow her grew more 
faint ; but we must remember that in him the man of 
action is always contending with the poet, and it is the 
nature of the man of action to live in the present and 
ever to seek new adventures. His books are composed 
of the imaginative aura that action gives off ; they are 
sagas in which he sings his own deeds. Although literal 

131 



GEORGE BORROW 

records, they are touched with a retrospective enchant- 
ment, as by one who has toiled all the morning, slept 
at midday, and woken at sunset to find the prospect 
unchanged yet transfigured. In the preface to Lavengro 
he describes it as " a dream," and there is a passage in 
the Bible in Spain telling of his joy in contemplating a 
beautiful landscape, which throws an unconscious light 
on the working of his genius : " An hour elapsed, and 
I still maintained my seat on the wall ; the past scenes 
of my life flitting before my eyes in airy and fantastic 
array, through which every now and then peeped trees 
and hills and other patches of the real landscape which 

I was confronting " Before the conclusion of 

Romany Rye the glow had faded entirely from the 
heavens, the real encroached more and more upon the 
ideal. And the whole of Wild Wales was composed in 
the light of common day. 

Save for the single instance of the stage coachmen 
and the coming of the railway, there is no reference to 
contemporary life in Borrow's volumes of autobiography. 
The stream waters the fields of childhood, enters the 
green valley of youth chequered by the shadows of 
domestic sorrow, and passes through the dark gorge of 
London life. Then the hills fall back, the river spreads 
into a lake on which the sunlight dances ; only our 
charmed boat has no landmark by which to steer. 
The Bible in Spain was held together by the state of the 
country, the distribution of Testaments, the relations 
of Borrow to the Spanish Government ; but for want 
of such stiffening ideas the fabric of Lavengro is liable 
to collapse upon the reader's mind. 

Yet this unfettered simplicity is not all loss. We 
may prove it by turning, after a study of Borrow, to the 
works of any other writer of imaginative prose. At 
once we are made aware of contracted horizons, of 
having exchanged the boundless heath for the walks of 
men, freedom for social tyranny. We visit other writers 
at well-ordered times, and a guide escorts us along 

132 



GEORGE BORROW 

gravel walks, and points out objects of interest. But 
the visitor to Borrow's domain must always find the 
lodge closed and the keeper gone. He is fortunate if, 
roaming round the immense circuit, he espies a little 
door unlatched ; but when he enters, what a wilderness 
meets his view ! And if one of the hilly and over- 
grown paths does lead him to the house-front, he 
discerns a long and rambling structure, in no single 
architectural style, but with the traces of every age upon its 
surface. 

No discussion of Borrow's merits should omit some 
reference to his style. It is flexible but not emphatic ; 
it neither disturbs nor excites ; its epithets do not lance 
the reader's mind. It has a colloquial tinge, and does 
not disdain the set phrase ; we do not feel, as with some 
writers, of whom Milton is the grand exemplar, that 
every word has been re-dipped in the creative spring. 
But its rhythm is flawless, and pursues the reader as the 
long-drawn ebb of the sea pursues the traveller who 
turns his steps inland. It often wears a thin robe of 
irony, but when this is discarded, it less resembles 
thinking aloud than confession by letter or spoken 
word to an understanding friend. Take this from 
Lavengro : " When many years had rolled on, long 
after I had attained manhood, and had seen and suffered 
much, and when our first interview had long since been 
effaced from the mind of the man of peace, I visited 
him in his venerable hall, and partook of the hospitality 
of his hearth." Or this from the Bible in Spain : " In 
the streets of Aranjuez, and beneath the mighty cedars 
and gigantic elms and plantains which compose its 
noble woods, I have frequently seen groups assembled 
listening to individuals who, with the New Testament 
in their hands, were reading aloud the comfortable words 
of salvation/' There is one book on which many 
writers have attempted to model their style, and of 
whose grand music we find some echoes in Borrow : 
" Oh, how dare I mention the dark feeling of mysteri- 

133 



GEORGE BORROW 

ous dread which comes over the mind, and which the 
lamp of reason, though burning bright the while, is 
unable to dispel ! In the brightest days of pros- 
perity — in the midst of health and wealth — how sentient 
is the poor human creature of thy neighbourhood I 
How instinctively aware that the flood-gates of horror 
may be cast open, and the dark stream engulf him for 
ever and ever ! " 



iH 



'Pater the Humanist 



PATER THE HUMANIST 

i 

THERE was much talk at one time of a revival of 
poetry and the excellences of the Georgian poets. 
The spectator of the modern world, impenetrated as 
it is by the spirit of beauty, cannot accept such cheering 
statements without question. The artistic nature de- 
mands enjoyment of life for its complete development ; 
indeed the plea advar id by some poets for happiness 
has often seemed excessive ; yet there never was a time 
when the outer experience would accord less with the 
inward vision of beauty than the present. And to prove 
this we may select the instance of Pater, which, in so far 
as he was the typical artist, lies at the cross-roads of 
thought. Already he belongs to a past generation, 
yet he summarises the difficulties and triumphs of the 
artist beset by a utilitarian world. 

It has been objected to Pater that what he sought 
was a state of mind rather than a motive for beneficent 
action, and the student of his life will hardly controvert 
this statement. Its very eventlessness was characteristic 
of him, as he himself remarked that the impersonality 
of MerimeVs style was an effective personal trait. Like 
his own Marius, it was his custom " to take flight in time 
from any too disturbing passion." He declined marriage 
and the graver responsibilities ; and it is even recorded 
that he would at once leave a hotel in which any person 
spoke to him. He expended his imaginative affections 
upon the past, and retained a profound mistrust of the 
actual age in which he lived. 

i37 



PATER THE HUMANIST 

Pater stood for the humanities as opposed to the 
utilities and expediencies ; and in an age like the present 
his indeed would be a voice crying in the wilderness. 
The academic type of mind, of which he is the greatest 
example, is tending more and more to eclipse : and 
even the older universities are hardly withstanding the 
attacks of those who desire education to become practical. 
The pressure of competition is urging the adoption of 
business principles in every department of life ; indeed, 
the term " business " is becoming the fetish of the 
twentieth century, as " evolution " was of the later 
nineteenth. That such preoccupations defeat the ideal 
element in human nature is an obvious truth ; and as a 
result we see a universal sacrifice of beauty to the lust 
for gain, and an ever-increasing worship of Mammon. 

It is well known that man's best nature appears in 
communion with but one other mind — as the sweetest 
of all human relationships testifies — that he is acted 
upon by the presence of numbers to less worthy self- 
expression. Some such transformation has been effected 
by the conditions of the modern world. Man's oppor- 
tunities of retirement have become rarer, his anxieties 
external, and his hope of success or fear of loss limited 
to what is material. Agnostics of the type of Cotter 
Morison exulted in the downfall of orthodox belief, 
yet it is doubtful whether religion was such a fruitful 
source of terrors to the average man, and whether the 
imminence of hell was so unquestioned as they would 
have us believe. What the men of the seventeenth and 
eighteenth centuries did admit was the reality of con- 
science ; and this recognition of an invisible Overseer 
imparted to the character a dignity in which we who 
measure all actions according or not as they are approved 
by our fellow-men are lacking. The " religion of human- 
ity " which was to cure all evils and herald the millennium, 
is looking sadly faded to the thoughtful mind : its 
message to the worldly man is, " Thou shalt not be found 



out." 



138 






PATER THE HUMANIST 

The academic or disinterested type of mind like that 
of Pater is being fast submerged. One of the most 
gracious traditions of educated man, the judging of 
his fellow-creatures according to their individual powers, 
is being superseded by the standard of results alone. 
That men are either efficient or inefficient is the doctrine 
of the man of business, — and that scorn not tolerance 
should be meted to the inefficient. The chance of failure 
being more admirable than success has passed out of 
the sphere of practical life. 

The artist has always tended to live with himself, 
but he fetched from the world the stuff of which his 
dreams are made, and never did one standing at his 
watch-tower gaze into such darkness as at the present. 
For this reason Pater sought inspiration from the past, 
among those ages where the outer life corresponded 
somewhat with the inner vision. But in him, as in all 
who live remote from the actual world, without sharing 
its duties, there is a certain unreality. His style is 
fundamentally sincere, and the emotions which he 
derives from the past are genuine, but they give light 
without warmth. Indeed, he often works in pure light 
rather than light and shade ; but the legendary and 
historical scenes which he restores to us lie as in the 
unaccustomed glow of a midnight sun. 

After journeying through this land of the midnight 
sun, to which we may compare Pater's works, and 
pausing to review our impressions, we find them exceed- 
ingly complex. Pater was, above all, an artist, and, 
secondarily, critic, biographer, philosopher. The ulti- 
mate fact of his writings is an emotion, but the chain 
has been so surrounded by what seems acquired know- 
ledge that a casual touch may not reveal it to be electric. 
In earlier days a purer form of literature might have 
suited Pater's genius, but a late civilization absorbs 
nearly all in criticism, and hence there is some want of 
balance between his form and content. This trait shows 
most in the autobiographical passages. His soul comes 

139 



PATER THE HUMANIST 

to us in intellectual semblance, as the Goddesses of his 
beloved Greek mythology veiled their beauty in the 
disguises of old women. Emotion is generated by the 
movement of the intellect — we must think in order to 
feel — and the meaning yields its sweetness in proportion 
as the reader's thought is intense. In the chapter of 
Marius the Epicure 'an , " The Will as Vision," it is 
revealed to Marius that he had never for one moment 
been left spiritually alone in the world, but an unfailing 
companion had always been by his side. We may regret 
that this singularly wistful idea was not disparted from 
some of its intellectual dress and preached in the outer 
courts of the Temple, where it might have increased 
Pater's disciples a thousandfold. Carlyle compared 
the Iliad to a star growing brighter as it grows more 
distant ; and if we watch the process of the mind in 
reading, shall we say, Fielding and Thackeray, who, 
often alike, belong to different ages, we see that with 
Fielding the emotion takes longer to reach us, as his 
star has receded further through time. Even so, Pater 
does not speak to us quite in our own language. The 
guest is gone before we discover that we have unawares 
entertained an angel. 



ii 

The title Imaginary Portraits, which belongs to Pater's 
slenderest volume, might have included the greater 
portion of his critical work. Between him and his sub- 
ject there is a deeper subconscious affinity than is usual 
with criticism. The reason is partly his own happy gift 
in selecting a kindred nature, for it is said he never 
wasted time in experimental reading, — and partly the 
period of brooding before composition which he exacted 
of himself. Indeed, he quotes with approval the ten 
years' meditation through which Sir Thomas Browne 
passed before writing Urn Burial. Hence, while seeming 

140 



PATER THE HUMANIST 

most impersonal, Pater is often the reverse, and, while 
apparently absorbed in his subject, he is unconsciously 
self-analytic. It is hard to write of him because he has 
himself made some of the best criticism on his own work. 
He tells us that Wordsworth's object was " impassioned 
contemplation " ; that Leonardo possessed the art 
" of tracking the sources of expression to their subtlest 
retreats " ; that Plato had " a sort of sensuous love 
of the unseen " ; that Botticelli " accepts that middle 
world in which men take no side in great conflicts, and 
decide no great issues, and make great refusals. " 

If, in writing of the ancient world, the balance is 
somewhat displaced, we owe to it Pater's most character- 
istic work. In The Child in the House he tells us how, 
parallel with his susceptibility to beauty, there grew up 
in him " an almost diseased sensibility to the spectacle 
of suffering," and, in the most beautiful chapter of 
MariuSy how men are constructed for suffering, and feel 
sorrow in proportion to their moral or nervous perfection. 
He brings this capacity for sorrow to his survey of ancient 
times, and while seeming to contradict his former saying 
that the Greek lived a purely outer life, he interpolates 
into the myth of Demeter and Persephone that " worship 
of sorrow " which is said to be scrupulously modern. 
He defines romanticism as the desire for a beauty born 
of unlikely elements, and it is in his conception of the 
majestic figures of Demeter and Kore that he is romantic. 
He sees them either at sunrise or sunset, when they cast 
the longest shadows. 

Similarly, who does not connect those tender scenes 
in the Hippolytus with Pater's self? We have the 
" ancient twilight world " with its tradition of celestial 
visitants remote from the luxuries of Athens, and the 
mother who is shocked by " a sense of something un- 
earthly in her boy's contentment," or relieved when it 
becomes " a shade less unconscious." Pater's affections 
were entwined with the church and the family, as the 
last institutions to preserve beauty in the modern world. 

141 



PATER THE HUMANIST 

The habit of protracted meditation which has made of 
the greater part of Pater's work a kind of disguised 
autobiography, has left its print upon his style. Whether 
one can overdo even such an excellent habit as profound 
meditation before composition is a question that might 
with all diffidence be asked. It is true that we get his 
thought exactly transcribed, but is the thought still 
alive by the time it reaches the paper, after so long a 
sojourn in the chambers of his brain ? Must the reader 
make too great an effort to reanimate it ? A writer 
usually starts upon his subject with a certain number of 
ideas, and the struggle of the brain to co-ordinate these 
generates further ideas. We feel with Pater that he has 
waited till the process of generation is complete, and only 
when the descendants of the parent ideas have become 
infertile does he mark out the genealogical tree. At its 
worst an air of exhaustion hangs over his page, and 
nowhere is there the sudden delight of spontaneous 
generation from the chance meeting of wandering 
thoughts. 

Although the separate parts have been previously 
completed in his mind and noiselessly joined together, 
so that the Temple rises to no sound of axe or hammer, 
the reader may test the solid foundation in his interest 
by his power to be strongly moved by certain phrases 
or even single words. Such is the term " narcotic " 
applied to the flowers most appropriately used at the 
worship of Demeter, or the often-repeated comparison 
to homesickness of man's thought of death. 

The essayist was wont to greet us in our own lan- 
guage and speak of topics which we knew well as a 
means of winning our attention, but in the slow fire of 
Pater's long-choosing mind all earthly particles have 
perished, and he conducts us to the upper chamber of 
his thought not by the common stairway of sense. His 
message thus seems detached from experience, and the 
impression resembles that of a vivid dream. 

And yet, considering the difficulties of the modern 

142 



PATER THE HUMANIST 

writer working in an ancient material, this attitude of 
Pater's seems the only possible one. It was not only 
the Athenians who demanded some new thing, and a 
bore is best defined as one whose sayings may be foretold. 
When Candide arrived in the El Dorado country he 
picked up the gold that was lying by the roadside, and 
offered it for payment at an inn : which gold was 
returned to him with good-humoured laughter. Such 
treatment would be accorded now to the writer who 
dealt in the simple rhythms and emotions of the older 
poets. For even the greatest poetry falls less resonantly 
on the ears of a later generation ; it has become part of 
the common language, and as thousands speak it who have 
never consciously perused it, the shock of novelty is 
gone. 

An intenser subjectivity, therefore, must distinguish 
a literature in its old age. In form and content it reflects 
the author's dread of besieging his reader's ears with a 
thrice-told tale. And one like Pater, in his anxiety of 
expending a single word that should draw the reader's 
attention from his own impression into the wider areas of 
settled thought, attenuates his meaning to a point that 
recalls the garment which could only be seen by the 
virtuous. Its imperceptible advance is the despair of 
the wandering mind. In glancing back it is almost 
impossible to say at what moment his message has 
been delivered, or which is the word that has converted 
us. The older writers, except in their most inspired 
moments, used words which a reader might transform 
according to his associations ; but the severer taste of 
modern times requires an author to abjure this language 
of the market-place. No word, or even portion of its 
meaning, must lie outside the radius of his personality. 
Hard beset in his efforts to mark out new areas from 
chaos with his golden compasses, he finds in his own 
soul the one new thing. 

The simplicity of a style like this is not what we 
usually understand by the word. It is that of age rather 

i43 



PATER THE HUMANIST 

than youth ; not of one who knows little of books, but 
who has read deeply and consciously refrains from 
expressing his thought in terms that recall men's accumu- 
lated wisdom. As an instance we may cite that passage 
in Gaston de Latour describing Montaigne's relations 
with the friend of his life : " Yet, after all, were he 
pressed to say why he had so loved Btienne de la Boetie, 
he could but answer : * Because it was He ! Because it 
was I ! ' " 



144 



Qharlotte ^Bronte 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

WHEN the stir of thought caused by the publica- 
tion in The Times 1 of Charlotte Bronte's four 
letters to Professor Heger has subsided, it will be 
found that they do not add substantially to our know- 
ledge of one whose self-expression in her books was 
entire. They furnish, it is true, biographical facts, 
and they reveal the extent of the Professor's irresponsive- 
ness ; but the task of the psychological critic of the 
future will be, as in the past, to define the exact nature 
of Charlotte Bronte's spiritual emotion. And in all 
probability we shall find the truth somewhere between 
the opinions formerly advanced by Mr. Clement Shorter 
and Mr. Angus MacKay ; always bearing in mind, 
when making our estimate, Charlotte Bronte's intense 
craving for human sympathy, and the cruelty of circum- 
stance which compelled the waste of her faculty for 
friendship. Mr. MacKay, without attempting to cast 
the slightest aspersion on her character, maintained 
that she was smitten with a veritable passion, and laid 
stress on the predominance of the love agony in her 
pages, of the theme of unrequited affection, of the 
frequency of love scenes between master and pupil, of 
Heger's appearance, under different forms in all her 
books. He was the first man of intellectual gifts with 
whom she had associated, and " the ripening of friend- 
ship and gratitude into a stronger feeling would be by 
imperceptible stages, and she herself would not know 

1 July, 191 3. 

H7 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

when that line was crossed. . . ." In this sense Mr. 
MacKay interpreted the passage in Charlotte Bronte's 
letter that she returned to Brussels against her conscience 
and was punished by the withdrawal for two years of 
happiness and peace of mind ; and the further state- 
ment : "I think, however long I live, I shall not forget 
what the parting with M. Heger cost me." Against 
this we have Mr. Snorter's warning that it is " an act 
of treachery to a great writer's memory to attempt to 
pry too closely into his heart." In his opinion, Charlotte 
Bronte kept all such thoughts well in subjection ; only, 
perhaps, when in a neurotic state she " permitted herself 
to think of the might-have-beens of life." 

There is at least no doubt that Charlotte Bronte's 
sojourn at Brussels was the intellectual turning-point of 
her life, and that had it not been for Heger's mental 
drilling, it is doubtful whether her subsequent writings 
would have taken the shape they did. She had, during 
childhood and girlhood, covered reams of paper with 
her tiny writing, but not one of these stories now 
possesses independent interest. Miss Frederika Mac- 
donald has told us that it was Heger who first persuaded 
Charlotte Bronte that art was necessary to carry convic- 
tion to the reader ; that the man of genius does not 
produce without labour ; and that genius without art 
is like force without the lever. 

It may therefore be asserted that Brussels was the 
intellectual stimulus of Charlotte Bronte's creative 
faculty, and partially the moral one ; and more than this 
it is not permissible to add. For a study of her writings 
convinces that the melancholy impression they leave is 
not from unrequited affection, but from the circumstances 
which made it imperative for their heroines to win love. 
And here we touch the autobiographical roof-tree of 
Charlotte Bronte's house of fame. It is the disharmonies 
of her life — passion and hypochondria, love of sociality 
and enforced solitude. 

One of Charlotte Bronte's characteristics most strongly 

148 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

emphasized by Mrs. Gaskell is her constitutional absence 
of hope, and we see in Villette how insistently the heroine 
confesses to this trait. Of course, the roll of tragedies 
in her life was a heavy one. It began in 1825, when 
she was nine years old, with the deaths of her elder 
sisters Maria and Elizabeth, and concluded in 1848—9, 
when the events of a few months were the death of her 
disgraced brother Branwell, and the deaths from con- 
sumption of her remaining sisters, Emily and Anne. 
And yet there were causes other than external which 
forbade happiness to Charlotte Bronte. Her malady 
of hypochondria was as much physical as mental. " My 
art halts at the threshold of hypochondria," says Dr. 
John in Villette ; " she just looks in and sees a chamber 
of torture, but can neither say nor do much. Cheerful 

society would be of use " But perhaps the fullest 

exposition is that of Crimsworth in the Professor : — 

" She (Hypochondria) had been my acquaintance, nay, my 
guest, once before in boyhood ; I had entertained her at bed 
and board for a year ; for that space of time I had her to myself 
in secret ; she lay with me, she ate with me, she walked out with 
me, showing me nooks in woods, hollows in hills, where we 
could sit together, and where she could drop her drear veil over 
me and so hide sky and sun, grass and green tree ; taking me 
entirely to her death-cold bosom, and holding me with arms of 
bone. What tales she would tell me at such hours ! What songs 
she would recite in my ears ! How she would discourse to me 
of her own country — the grave — and again and again promise 
to conduct me there ere long ; and, drawing me to the very brink 
of a black, sullen river, show me, on the other side, shores un- 
equal with mound, monument, and tablet, standing up in a 
glimmer more hoary than moonlight. ' Necropolis ! ' she would 
whisper, pointing to the pale piles, and add, 4 It contains a mansion 
prepared for you.' " 

The cheerful society which Dr. John prescribed for 
Lucy Snowe was too often withheld from Charlotte 
Bronte. We see this dependence upon surroundings 
in the heroines of her books and in herself ; how, when 

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CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

outer impressions became less acute, the mind preyed 
upon itself. When she returned to Brussels, her friend 
Mary Taylor tells us that now that " she had become 
acquainted with the people and ways her life became 
monotonous, and she fell into the same hopeless state 
as at Miss Wooler , s. ,, The author of a recent critical 
work has censured Byron because he was first a man 
and then a poet, because the external world was more 
real to him than the internal. It is this disharmony 
between the two worlds that made the tragedy of Charlotte 
Bronte's life and gave to her writings their note of 
piercing regret. And at last, when a chance of happi- 
ness did offer itself, she scarcely dared step forward and 
secure it. She yielded to her father's objections to her 
marriage because her unhoping nature, to which circum- 
stances had given tragic corroboration, made her a 
timid loiterer on the shore of the sea of life. 

Turning to her writings, we will speak first of the 
Professor, which, in spite of its many rejections and 
tardy birth, is a book that still gives pleasure to read, 
independent of its mighty successors. It sounds no 
great depth of human character, and is not fervid with 
passion ; but it is not exclusively the chrysalis whence 
emerged in later years the brilliant butterfly of Villette. 
Except passion, we have all the constituents of the style 
that subsequently underwent development rather than 
change ; but the faults of construction, never entirely 
eliminated, are at their worst. The interest is well 
sustained because of the writer's sincerity, but threads 
are dropped and resumed at random, contrasts, as 
between Crimsworth and his brutal brother, are too 
glaring, and the episodes are out of proportion. The 

surroundings of X (Huddersfield) and Crimsworth 

Hall are so admirably depicted that we are loth to part 
with them for good in the course of a few pages ; and 
although incidents succeed without pause, they do not 
at once dissipate the regrets in the reader's mind. The 
theme is one that Charlotte Bronte was afterwards to 

150 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

treat with greater power : that of an individual without 
friends or fortune who must fight his way to happiness 
through a hostile world. But the interest centres less 
in individual character than in the contrast of the Belgian 
type with the English, and the observation of Belgian 
school life through English eyes. It is the writer's 
conviction of the truth of this observation that gives 
the book its permanent value. 

Both French and Belgian character are treated from 
the insular point of view. The cry of the exile and the 
heretic rings throughout the book. No greater tribute 
can be paid to any custom than to say it recalls something 
English. When Crimsworth and Pelet take coffee 
together, the comfort is " almost English. " It is the 
English accent of Frances Henri that first thrills Crims- 
worth's heart. Part of his love is the satisfaction in her 
presence of the exile's yearning. 

In Jane Eyre the quality of passion appears. In the 
Professor the words returned no echoes, the interval 
between the striking of the notes was not filled by the 
pedal-music of passion. There was the same difference 
as between the classical school of Pope and the romantic 
school of Wordsworth. In one the object is seen clearly 
against a clean sky ; in the other it is transfigured by 
haze or cloud or distance. In the first there is beauty ; 
in the second, beauty and strangeness. 

This quality of strangeness springs from the union 
of passion and imagination, which transfigure the 
ordinary scenes of life, and we listen to her in gathering 
awe as to the traveller from whose lips fall tidings of 
unknown lands. In a book such as the Pilgrim s Progress 
our fear is of the burning pit ; in the Faerie Queene of 
dragons and enchanters ; but in Jane Eyre it is of some- 
thing vague and unformed. It differs from the earlier 
books as the terrors of the Puritan of the seventeenth 
century differed from those of the beljeving-agnostic of 
the nineteenth, as Grace Abounding differed from Sartor 
Resartus. The power in its essence is that of the mind 

151 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

to transmute by means of emotion, to modify external 
scenes according to the joy or sorrow of which they 
have been the witnesses ; and it is effective in proportion 
as memory or the subconscious self in sleep or dreams 
tinge the pictures of the past with deeper shades. Even 
the child who reads the Pilgrim's Progress finds such 
objects as the wicket-gate, the foot-path, the stile between 
two fields, transfigured by the writer's spiritual fervour. 
And for this reason the industry which has identified 
all the places mentioned in the Bronte novels with their 
originals is, from the literary point of view, misplaced. 
In reading Jane Eyre we cannot help feeling mildly 
surprised when a chance allusion reminds us that the 
scene is laid in a northern or north-midland county, or 
even in England at all. Our state of mind is inverse 
to that of the individual who read Gulliver's Travels 
and looked for Lilliput on the map. We should recall 
a pregnant sentence in an Athenaeum 1 article on Charlotte 
Bronte : " Crises and partings, journeys and reunions, 
in her pages sometimes seem to tell of people in more 
mysterious lands and on more mysterious seas than 
ours. They speak of souls rather than of bodies." 

Charlotte Bronte is more akin to the poets of the 
romantic revival than to the other leading English 
novelists, all of whom have one thing in common that she 
has not. They are profoundly concerned with the 
things of this world ; while with her we feel that the earth 
is but one point with an " unfathomed gulf" on each 
side, that all the rest is " formless cloud and vacant 
depth," and we shudder " at the thought of tottering 
and plunging amid that chaos." A book like Jane Eyre 
belongs to no epoch or state of society ; it is simply a 
story told by a lonely human being. The action of 
Fielding, of Scott, of Miss Austen, of George Eliot, 
takes place on the sunlit plain ; with Charlotte Bronte it 
is fought out on inaccessible mountains, among sharp 
peaks, or in deep valleys where the shadows lie thickest. 

1 April 7th, 1900. 

152 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

The causes of this must be sought in those conditions 
of Charlotte Bronte's life which combined to render her 
morbid. For she was not by nature austere ; she had 
a passionate craving for companionship and for love, 
and a passionate apprehension of the beauty of the world. 
Her love of colour is seen not only in her descriptions of 
nature — in moonlit skies and blossoming orchards — 
but in details such as dress fabrics and the decorations 
of a room. But she was condemned, even before the 
death of her sisters, to much suffering and solitude, as 
in her governess days and the fateful second year at 
Brussels. She sought the consolations of love, because 
these alone could absorb her mind and interpose between 
it and the empty horizons of life — as some persons turn 
to an unreasoned faith from the horrors of scepticism. 
It is the morbidity that springs from solitary brooding, 
from the constitutional absence of hope that Mrs. Gaskell 
noted, and from lowness of vitality, that casts those strange 
shadows over the landscape of her novels. The feeling 
may be communicated by a simple descriptive touch, 
as when Jane Eyre at twilight turns with a shudder 
from the closet where her " wraith-like " wedding 
apparel hangs ; but more usually by the aspects of 
nature. Charlotte Bronte's kinship to the poets is no- 
where more unquestioned than in her treatment of 
nature. To say that nature forms the background of 
the action is to understate the case. Nature grieves or 
rejoices with the actors, warns of coming danger, blends 
with their minds and reflects their emotions. And the 
scent of flowers, the loneliness of a road, the desolation 
of the moors, the changes of the seasons or of night and 
day, the tinkle of streams that thread remote hill-passes, 
heard in the quiet of evening — seem to suggest how 
slender a foothold has man on life and happiness, and 
how great the mystery that lies beyond. Small wonder 
that Rochester tells Jane Eyre she has the look of another 
world on her face. 

It is the disharmony of her life, as it was and as it 

153 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

might have been, that forms the persistent motive in 
Charlotte Bronte's novels. How often do we find a 
repetition in the spirit of that scene early in the Professor 
where Crimsworth, grudgingly admitted to his brother's 
house, casts yearning glances at the group of girls 
" enveloped in silvery clouds of white gauze and muslin," 
and feels himself isolated and ignored. These feelings 
of injustice and exclusion must have been Charlotte 
Bronte's when, as governess, she had experience of 
" the dark side of * respectable ' human nature." " A 
complaint to the mother only brings black looks on my- 
self," she wrote ; and, " I find it so hard to repel the 
rude familiarity of children." Her inability to deal with 
children is not surprising when we recall her own 
motherless childhood, and the serious pursuits that 
took the place of games at Haworth Parsonage. 

The charge of faulty construction is frequently 
brought against Charlotte Bronte's novels ; indeed, the 
least critical reader must suffer at times from having 
his interest in old scenes violently uprooted and trans- 
ferred. If something is conceded to the requirements 
of autobiography, the residue can only be explained as 
the defects of Charlotte Bronte's qualities. The diffi- 
culties of the literary artist, like those of the orator, are 
not in linking one subject to another, but in keeping 
the whole before his readers or audience, so that the 
entire weight of the argument presses on their minds. 
In David Copperfie/d, Dickens, though flitting from 
scene to scene, keeps his communications open, because 
his action takes place on the broad earth, unlike the 
spiritual heights of Charlotte Bronte. With her, each 
winding of the valley is shut off by a wall of rock. No 
sooner does the heroine quit her surroundings than they 
are swallowed up in darkness. The episodes are suc- 
cessive catastrophes whence she alone escapes to tell 
the tale. It is the predominance of soul-history that 
causes this periodical quenching of the interest : the 
abrupt dismissal from the circle of the narrative of those 

154 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

whose work in stimulating the emotions of the central 
figure is done. We can well believe that Lowood stood 
in a hollow girdled by hills like barriers of separation 
between it and the living world. That Mr. Rochester 
should have heard independently of Mr. Brocklehurst, 
that Jane Eyre while at Thornfield should revisit Gates- 
head, come with a shock of surprise. That roads should 
exist and communications pass between such places, 
strains our credulity as much as the second part of the 
Pilgrim's Progress when Christiana follows in her hus- 
band's steps through the dread country. 

The second scene of the book takes place at Lowood 
Orphan Asylum, subsequently identified with Cowan 
Bridge. All Charlotte Bronte's best work had a basis 
of reality, and perhaps she never wrote anything more 
poignant than the description of Lowood and the char- 
acter of Helen Burns. In homely but graphic words 
she speaks of physical hardships and privations ; not 
the least distressing of her pictures is that of the pale 
thin girls herded in the garden verandah, during the 
hour of recreation, where the sound of a hollow cough 
was not infrequent. The prototype of Helen Burns 
was Maria Bronte, whose beautiful mind was mated 
with untidy habits ; and these made her the victim of 
the pitiless Miss Scatcherd. The shock of witnessing 
the indignities meted to her idolized sister permanently 
affected Charlotte Bronte's mental health, and explains 
the freshness of indignation with which the lines of the 
picture are wrought after twenty-five years of suppressed 
but passionate brooding. It is in the death of Helen 
Burns from consumption that the feeling of strangeness 
is most accentuated ; when Jane Eyre, returning at 
sunset from wandering in the woods, enquires after her 
friend, and receiving the answer, " She will not be here 
long," seeks the sick chamber through the rambling old 
house by moonlight. 

The central episode of Jane Eyre is Thornfield, and 
here Charlotte Bronte abandoned her resolve never to 

i55 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

affect " one feeling on any subject that I do not really 
experience." Some of the less essential matter was 
reproduced from her own life ; the following passage 
in one of her letters expresses feelings akin to those of 
Jane among Mr. Rochester's guests : " The only 
glimpses of society I have ever had were obtained in my 
vocation as governess, and some of the most miserable 
moments I can recall were passed in drawing-rooms 
full of strange faces." But the truth of the autobiography 
lies in its inwardness ; as Jane Eyre says to Mr. Roches- 
ter : " It is my spirit that addresses your spirit." Many 
as are the indictments of Rochester, we cannot condemn 
one who is responsible for the rise of such an Aladdin's 
palace of joy in a lonely heart. Also, the characters of 
the book are developed in proportion as they affect the 
heroine's inner life, and every event moves us according 
as it advances or retards the happiness for which she 
craves. When, towards the close, we hear of the burn- 
ing of Thornfield, we tremble till we know that Rochester 
has escaped, but it is less for his own sake than for 
Jane's. 

Shirley is the table-land between the peaks of Jane 
Eyre and Villette, It is founded on observation and 
hearsay rather than inner experience ; only at times, 
as we traverse its broad spaces, do we light upon auto- 
biographical rock. The action takes place in i8u-i2, 
the years of the Luddite riots, stories of which had been 
told to Charlotte Bronte as a child by her father, who 
had first-hand acquaintance with some of the events, 
and by her schoolmistress, Miss Wooler. But Charlotte 
Bronte leavened the historical characters with many of 
her own generation. And Shirley may be described 
as her most social book because the interest is diffused 
among a score of persons, not centred in one. Among 
the more favoured of these it is Charlotte Bronte who 
was beloved by her schoolfellows at Roe Head, who 
spent week-ends with her friends, Ellen Nussey and 
Mary Taylor, and in the house of the latter took part 

156 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

in fiery political discussions, opposing her Tory im- 
mobility to Radical onsets. With the less favoured, 
it is Charlotte Bronte, the somewhat sententious little 
clergyman's daughter. In any case, Shirley is her most 
persistent attempt at a novel of manners, and to bring 
into artistic focus characters of independent interests. 

There are structural faults in Shirley ; the groups of 
characters lack fusion, and are not tributaries of one 
main narrative stream. The action is slow-moving, 
incident arises chiefly from the shocks of antagonistic 
characters. And, despite the extraordinary vividness 
with which these characters start up on her pages, they 
hardly satisfy the requirements of a novel of manners 
in being typical. But these are defects of Charlotte 
Bronte's qualities. She had, as Swinburne said, " the 
very rarest of all powers or faculties of imagination 
applied to actual life and individual character.' ' Like 
her sister Anne, she transcribed what was before her 
eyes, but the methods of the two differed as photography 
from portrait-painting. The first reproduces reality in 
the light of common day : the second links its subjects, 
with all their personal idiosyncrasies, to the ideas of which 
they are the symbols, and so discovers a path into the 
infinite. Anne had neither the imagination nor the 
powerful intellect capable of brooding intensely over 
the real till it was transfigured into the ideal. And yet 
Charlotte Bronte did not divine how literal were her 
renderings of nature ; she once wrote to Ellen Nussey 
that she only suffered reality to " suggest," never to 
" dictate." Circumstances confuted her theory, for the 
publication of Shirley marked the term of her anonymity 
as a writer. 

Yet, with all their vividness, the figures in Shirley 
are seen rather in low relief than rounded completeness. 
For Charlotte Bronte lacked that higher kind of humour 
which can view shocks of temperament with an indulgent 
if melancholy smile. She saw matter for tears rather 
than smiles in the seeming-small imperfections by which 

157 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

happiness is just missed both for self and others, and 
at those sharp angles of character which intercept the 
sunlight from neighbouring spirits. And her method 
of satirising the foibles she deemed most harmful proved 
her range of sympathies to be but narrow. The words 
" subjective " and " objective " have fallen into ill 
repute, yet they do contain a meaning expressed by no 
others. All classification is arbitrary, but there does 
exist a point, below which when the mind narrows, and 
above which when it broadens, communications may 
not pass. And Charlotte Bronte's place is on the subjec- 
tive side. 

In Xenophon's Memorabilia Socrates observes that 
human beings must tolerate each other's faults because 
they require each other ; and this was precisely in- 
applicable to Charlotte Bronte\ With strong leanings 
towards sociality, she had been condemned to live in 
isolation till her habits grew fixed and she became 
independent and fastidious. " For society, long seclusion 
has in a great measure unfitted me," she once wrote to 
Mr. W. S. Williams ; "I doubt whether I should 
enjoy it if I might have it. Sometimes I think I should, 
and I thirst for it ; but at other times I doubt my cap- 
ability of pleasing or deriving pleasure. The prisoner 
in solitary confinement, the toad in the block of marble, 
all in time shape themselves to their lot." Hence there 
is a certain unkindness in her satire, there is " the 
keenness of home criticism " directed against a world 
she viewed with the detachment of a spectator. She 
has also the spirit of reprisal ; she hits back because 
she has been hit. The shortcomings on which she lays 
her finger are those which must have jarred the sensitive- 
ness of the recluse who at rare intervals ventures into the 
world. When she speaks of Mr. Donne's harsh voice 
and vulgarly presumptuous and familiar style, we can 
well believe it was that voice and that style which had 
thrown her nerves into an agony ; it would have pleased 
her to think that he had read the passage and winced 

158 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

at the allusion. How great is the gulf between the 
equanimity of Miss Austen, or the wide-embracing 
tolerance of George Eliot, who shows how the limita- 
tions of humble intellects recoil as much upon themselves 
as upon the susceptibilities of others. 

The action of the book moves slowly as one group or 
another hold the stage. Now we are with Shirley under 
the oak beams of Fieldhead, now with the Yorkes at 
Briarmains, now at the Rectory or Hollows Cottage ; 
anon the curates are called in to make sport for us. But 
the two central characters are Caroline Helstone and 
Shirley Keeldar ; and if one can say that the interest 
of the book is ever brought to a focus, it is in their love 
for the brothers Moore. Caroline has some kinship with 
the heroines of Byron's romances, the Zuleikas and 
Medoras, in whom passive natures and mild manners 
co-exist with power to love greatly. She is believed to 
be a composition of Ellen Nussey and Anne Bronte, 
but the mind is that of Charlotte herself. We do not 
feel the immense solitudes that surround Jane Eyre 
and Lucy Snowe ; it is rather the social side of Charlotte 
that is revealed. No doubt the charming externals are 
borrowed from Ellen and Anne, and also such qualities 
of temperament as sensitiveness to the moods of others, 
and renunciation without a struggle. But when the 
deeps of character are laid bare it is Charlotte Bronte 
herself. Yet Anne also was at times subject to religious 
melancholy, and we are reminded of both sisters when 
phrases escape from Caroline such as, " Every path trod 
by human feet terminates in one bourne — the grave," 
or " The soul's real hereafter, who shall guess ? " 

Shirley herself was admitted by Charlotte Bronte to be a 
representation of Emily's lighter side. Except her 
love of animals, there is little in Shirley to recall any- 
thing we know of Emily, and in her social leanings 
there is one strange anachronism. There is truth in the 
criticism that Caroline was the child of nature and 
Shirley the creature of circumstance. To Shirley's 

*59 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

position of heiress is due some portion of her charm ; 
to the simplicity of character, the wistfulness and non- 
chalance that she preserves amid riches, to her forlorn 
bearing when surrounded by her worldly relations. 
And interest is heightened in her by a number of 
external touches. Compared with the " snow-white 
dove " of Caroline, she is the " gem-tinted bird of 
paradise. " She is interesting by her purple silk dress 
and embroidered scarf, and by the daintiness of her 
appurtenances — the small satin bag, the clean, delicate 
glove — that the adoring Louis Moore finds scattered 
about her desk. 

Such are the impressions left by a saunter through the 
long gallery of Shirley^ and a survey of the portraits as 
they hang in the strongly marked light and shade of the 
author's predilections. And if their eyes haunt us long 
after we have turned away, it is because they were 
limned by no hasty hand. When Helstone or Yorke 
to name no others — are first introduced, we feel at once 
how intimately known to the author they are, — because 
their intense individuality is the outcome of years of 
mental attrition. And Shirley was Charlotte Bronte's 
most social book ; there is a joyousness in it which, 
although not persistent, breaks out at intervals through 
the whole, despite the triple catastrophe that suspended 
its making. Over the favoured characters is shed some- 
thing of the charm of an age that has passed away. The 
Briarfield that Charlotte Bronte knew was already sub- 
merged by the manufacturing tide, but in her pages 
Fieldhead stands amid green fields, and Hollows Mill 
is the one blot on the unblackened country. There is 
Nunnely Common " pearled with daisies and golden 
with kingcups," and Nunnwood, " the sole remnant of 
antique British forest." A ramble through the Shirley 
country would be of endless profit to the Bronte en- 
thusiast. The reverse of this was said about Jane Eyre ; 
and although Villette is in part a novel of manners, at any 
moment mists may roll down the mountains to blot out 

160 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

the villages at their base and make us wanderers in the 
strange country of the soul. 

Three years intervened between the publication of 
Shirley and Vilette ; they were the bitterest of Charlotte 
Bronte's life. Death had been busy in her circle, and 
had justified her constitutional absence of hope. " I 
have seen her turn pale and feel faint," said one of her 
friends in former days, " when in Hartshead Church 
someone accidentally remarked that we were walking 
over graves. Charlotte was certainly afraid of death, 
not only of dead bodies or dying people. She dreaded it 
as something horrible." That not only Charlotte but 
Emily and Anne also were preoccupied with the physical 
aspects of death, abundant allusions in their novels and 
poems testify. Perhaps the situation of Haworth Parson- 
age and their familiarity from childhood with the facts 
of mortality account for the churchyard taint in their 
writings. But if this impersonal dread was present to 
Charlotte in happier days, how was it now when thrice 
within a few months she had seen " a marble calm suc- 
ceed the last dread agony ? " What her life was during 
those years we may see from her letters ; how she sat 
in a lonely room with the clock ticking loud through a 
still house, and thought of the three laid in their narrow 
dark dwellings ; how the arrival of the post was her 
one link with the world, but when day after day brought 
nothing, her spirits fell so low that she was shocked at 
her dependence on it ; how the exercise of imagination 
alone afforded her pleasure, but " even imagination 
will not dispense with the ray of domestic cheerfulness." 
The visits she paid to London tended but slightly to 
mitigate her lot. Habit had unfitted her to enter the 
social territories conquered by her genius, and the 
physical pains produced by shyness were unabated. 
True happiness existed for her only in the brief visits 
of her friend Ellen. When at her worst, in the winter 
of 1 85 1~2, she found it needful to anticipate a visit 
which she had conscientiously postponed till the work, 

161 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

eagerly desired by her publishers, was in their hands. 
" Let me see your dear face just for one reviving week," 
she wrote ; and when this week was over, her next letter 
concludes : " I do miss my dear companion. No more 
of that calm sleep. " Hence there is a note of sharper 
anguish in Villette ; the shadow of a bereaved home 
falls on every page. We have travelled far from the 
sociality of Shirley ; we have returned, with fuller experi- 
ence, to the bleakness of Jane Eyre. And over the new 
territories of her soul that Charlotte Bronte opens to 
our view is shed something of the pallor of a lunar 
landscape. 

We have only to read the first pages of Villette to 
realize that it springs from a mind surcharged with 
sorrow. Hazlitt likened the effect of Dante's poetry 
to that produced by gazing on the face of one who had 
seen an object of horror ; and so we feel that the author 
of Villette has watched in the death-chamber and heard 
by the graveside the rattle of earth on coffins. She sits 
at her desk with the numbed senses of one restored to a 
world whence all she loves has been taken, and discovers 
what an immeasurable distance the tide of life has 
receded. Of Jane Eyre it may be said that we know 
every stripe the world has laid upon her from her birth ; 
but she is passing through a novitiate of suffering, while 
her elder sister, Lucy Snowe, has taken the black veil. 
In her heart there are reservoirs of tears wept before 
the first chapter of Villette was written. Jane Eyre had 
all to win of fate, but from Lucy Snowe fate had taken 
even what she had. She is now convinced that " fate is 
her permanent foe," and resolved to be a mere looker-on 
at life. But although the opening chapters treat of the 
pains of others, it is less for these that we feel than for 
her who interprets them with so much authority. The 
interest is in the author's personality, and it leads us like 
a pillar of cloud and fire across great wastes. 

The constructional faults of the earlier books are re- 
duced to a minimum. The episodic nature of Jane Eyre 

162 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

exacted that at intervals we should be detained among 
shallows ; in Villette a strong flood tide seizes us at the 
outset and bears us on till we descry a shore, if haply 
an elusive one. Twice indeed the scene is shifted before 
we reach Villette itself, but there is not the fullness of 
detail to delude us into believing each time that here is 
our abiding place. The fairy child Paulina is seen as in a 
long perspective ; her grief at separation from her father 
is less heart-piercing for its own sake than for the 
capacity for suffering which it reveals and will be hers 
with tenfold increase when a woman. Later on we 
contemplate " the steam-dimmed lattice " of Miss 
Marchmont's sick chamber ; and her sad memories move 
us less in themselves than for the understanding heart 
of her quiet companion. And yet, despite the absorbing 
autobiographical interest, the characters in Villette are 
presented with greater completeness. Mrs. Bretton, 
Dr. John, Ginevra Fanshawe are not in low relief like 
those of Shirley ; all their sides are turned to the world. 
The author judges them less by her own preferences 
and aversions than as workers under the eye of the 
taskmaster Fate, who to her had been so cruel. Even 
a fleeting vision of the king of Labassecour wakes her 
pity, because she discerns in the lines of his countenance 
traces of her own malady of hypochondria. 

The opening scenes reflect a mind which feels by 
proxy ; with the transference of the action to the town 
of Villette (Brussels), the story proper begins. Belgian 
school life had already been treated in the Professor, and 
much of that then unpublished book was here reproduced. 
Many of the portraits, notably that of Madame Beck, 
were skilfully elaborated ; but the spirit of the whole 
is unchanged. There is the same anti-Catholic prejudice, 
the revolt against the subtle and all-pervading essence of 
Romanism, the feeling of exile in a land of convents and 
confessionals, the presence of a bar between her mind 
and those that were being reared in slavery. How far 
the delineations of character are historically true is beyond 

163 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

our scope ; the literary critic must be content with the 
imaginative truth which he finds in abundance. 

The English group are considered by Lucy Snowe 
largely according to the contrast their lives offer with 
her own, and not without something of the pity that the 
poet Gray lavished upon the " little victims " in the 
Eton playing fields ; or as one treading a sombre avenue 
might behold at the far end a band of children gambolling 
in shafts of sunlight. She is angry with Ginevra Fan- 
shawe because the best things in life come to her un- 
sought, and she squanders them through want of apprecia- 
tion. Her visits to the Brettons are like glimpses of 
home ; she notes every domestic detail with the eyes of 
one to whom such things are strange ; and not without 
apprehension that this pleasant, sheltered household is 
yet subject to chance and death and mutability. 

Although the action of Villette takes place in a town, 
there is no diminution of the poetical quality which allies 
nature with the moods of the soul. Nature with Charlotte 
Bronte always symbolized the passing of time and the 
nearness of the grave. In the " forbidden alley " of the 
garden stood an old pear-tree " dead all but a few boughs 
which still faithfully renewed their perfumed snow in 
spring and their honey-sweet pendants in autumn." 
And again : " All the long, hot summer day burned 
away like a Yule log ; the crimson of its close perished ; 
I was left bent among the cool blue shades, over the 
pale and ashen gleams of its night.' ' Like the iron 
mountain in the Arabian tale, she draws everything to 
herself, so that solid terrestrial objects are shaped to the 
bidding of her mind. She weaves the spell of loneliness 
round the school ; it is a " demi-convent secluded in 
the built-up core of a capital " ; the class-rooms are 
" great dreary jails buried far back beyond thorough- 
fares." The interest of the episodes, even when most 
impersonal, is measured by the ebb and flow of the 
writer's spiritual excitation. This quality is in abeyance 
so long as the external world maintains its power ; as 

164 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

during her first months in the Rue Fossette while she is 
occupied in observing and taking her bearings ; or 
on her visits to the Brettons. But it is ever ready to burst 
forth when the internal river of melancholy is in flood, 
as in the wonderful account of the visit to the con- 
fessional. 

Friendship with the Brettons imparts to her life a 
human interest. Till then she had been content with 
the negation of suffering, convinced that fate was her 
permanent foe. She compared herself to an unobtrusive 
article of furniture, not striking enough to interest, 
not prominent enough to offend ; descriptions such as 
" quiet Lucy Snowe," " inoffensive shadow," did not 
distress her. She was a mere looker-on at life ; only, as 
she says, " when I thought of past days, I could feel." 
When Dr. John fulfils his promise of corresponding, 
she can scarce credit her good fortune. Attracted by 
the brilliant Paulina, he insensibly passes from the stage ; 
less godlike than Lucy once thought, but always to be 
remembered kindly. 

The pang of separation is less sharp because of the 
striking figure that steps into the vacant place. Pro- 
fessor Paul Emanuel, the best loved and most vividly 
presented of all Charlotte Bronte's creations, is, to use 
a phrase of her own, " daguerreotyped by a pencil of 
keen lightning." He is the " waspish little despot " 
who " fumes like a bottled storm " ; so hasty in his 
movements that the folding doors " split " rather than 
open to his touch ; he makes crusades against the 
amour propre of all but himself ; he flees the presence 
of those he cannot outshine ; he hates intellectual supre- 
macy in women, and " his veins were dark with a livid 
bella-donna tincture, the essence of jealousy." The 
sudden shifting of heroes has been made the ground of 
detrimental criticism, yet there is much to be said for the 
effects of contrast and surprise. And perhaps those of 
us who first became acquainted with Villette in early 
uncritical days will never forget our feelings of wonder 

165 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

and delight as we realized that the irascible little pro- 
fessor was softening into a lover. 

Of M. Paul it was said by Leslie Stephen 1 : " We 
see only his relations to the little scholastic circle, and 
have no such perception as the greatest writers would give 
us of his relations to the universe, or, as the next order 
would give, of his relations to the great world without." 
May we not answer that Villette is in essentials an auto- 
biography, and that M. Paul is less admirable as an 
independent specimen of humanity than as one who 
promotes the growth of its author's soul ? Apart from 
the effect of the heroine, the author's triumph is in 
having established the relativity of M. Paul's character- 
istics, so that he impresses the reader as entirely lovable, 
and his faults pass like clouds from the surface of the 
deep well of tenderness in his central nature. 

The craving for companionship and love, the motive 
of Jane Eyre, and of Charlotte Bronte's life, is that of 
Villette ; but the world which is new to Jane Eyre is 
old to Lucy Snowe. Hardly, unwillingly, is she drawn 
into the pursuit ; only, being human, even she cannot 
escape the universal destiny while she inhabits what 
Teufelsdrockh called the " Place of Hope." The passion 
is a deeper one than Jane Eyre's for Rochester, because 
the need is greater ; into a greater loneliness must she 
relapse if unsuccessful. The question whether M. 
Paul ever returned from the exile to which " a woman's 
envy and a priest's bigotry " consigned him, is unsolved. 
Probably most conscientious readers, after many attempts 
at self-deception, will agree that the ship which bore 
him made one of the wrecks which strewed the Atlantic. 
Hopelessness is the prevailing note of the book in which 
Charlotte Bronte's powers culminated ; no other lies 
in such a depth of shadow as Villette. 

That Charlotte Bronte suffered much during her soli- 
tary year at Brussels is obvious to every student of her 
life ; but when she wrote Villette in later Haworth days, 

1 Hours in a Library, Vol. III. 

1 66 



CHARLOTTE BRONTE 

amid solitude and ill-health following bereavements, 
her memories of the Pensionnat Heger had been subjected 
to the idealizing process of time, and she must have 
recurred with peculiar fondness to days when she did 
fill some place in the living world, however unsympathetic 
were all but one of the figures which peopled it, when 
she had allotted tasks and duties as bulwarks between 
herself and the great ocean of melancholy. Much of 
Villette is a transcript from life, much of it is allegory. 
When M. Paul sailed away from Lucy Snowe, his prow 
was turned towards another shore than Guadeloupe ; 
and as we close the book there recur to us those pene- 
trating words of the Athenaeum reviewer : " Crises and 
partings, journeys and reunions in her pages sometimes 
seem to tell of people in more mysterious lands and on 
more mysterious seas than ours. They speak of souls 
rather than of bodies.'* 



167 



Edward Fitzgerald and his Times 



EDWARD FITZGERALD AND HIS TIMES 

A FEW hundred lines of inspired verse, and four 
volumes of correspondence possessing a distinctive 
charm, are what remain of FitzGerald's passage through 
the world. It is no longer the fashion to bewail scanty 
production, or we might ask why from a life which 
covered all but a few years of the nineteenth century, 
and to which abundant leisure was vouchsafed, more 
copious streams did not flow. Suffice it that what we 
have is of his best, and that the causes of his limited 
output are not without interest. 

FitzGerald fell upon an age profoundly unsuited to 
his genius. One virtue of the poet he had to its full, 
the virtue of simplicity ; and he lived at a time when 
the evils of industrialism and commercialism were 
destroying man's primitive nature. In literature he 
loved the simple authors, such as Shakespeare, Cervantes, 
Boccaccio, Scott, for their broad human delight ; and 
he no less affected the simple joys of life. The friend- 
ships of his youth would have sufficed him for happiness 
in old age, had not the striving century been inimical 
to the preservation of such ties. It is not needful for 
a man to play a leading part among his fellows in order 
to reflect the spirit of the age. As Carlyle says : " The 
great world-revolutions send in their disturbing billows 
to the remotest creek." 

The changes which had begun to transform the coun- 
try about half a century before FitzGerald's birth were 
operating upon the hearts of men. We are grown so 

171 



EDWARD FITZGERALD 

used to an industrial England as scarcely to realize 
that, historically speaking, it is of recent date ; that 
what we know as the modern world came into being in 
the reign of George III. The changes between 1750 
and 1800 have been called revolution ; those between 
1800 and 1900, although more far-reaching, less revolu- 
tion than development. The town ever tended to grow, 
and the fresh country withered at its touch. Village 
industries were abandoned, and hard upon each other 
came the spinning-jenny, the power-loom, the foundry, 
the railway and canal. In 1801 the census returns 
for England and Wales were under nine million ; a 
hundred years later they were thirty-two and a half 
million. And with this increased population came a 
severer struggle to exist. 

The crowding of men in cities, with facilities of inter- 
communication, has done much to destroy the feeling 
of the mystery of life. The poetic, like the religious 
soul, faints for want of solitude and communion with 
nature. The poet, like Wordsworth, may seek wild 
and remote scenes, but nowadays we ask ourselves in 
vain what place is wild and remote ? What place is 
undisturbed by the railway, and the daily newspaper with 
its hated murmurings of town life ? In former centuries, 
when England was still a " sylvan wilderness,' ' when 
villages lived their little lives untouched by the world 
beyond, when the few who travelled did so by stage 
coach, — the soul of man still had glimpses of the im- 
mortal sea. Stevenson tells how the settlers on the empty 
plains of Nebraska are afflicted by a " sickness of vision." 
They are " tortured by the distance," and their eyes 
" quail before so vast an outlook." A reverse process 
takes place in the town-dweller of to-day. His interests 
are crowded into the foreground, and the eye glancing 
from each to each is raised no more to a far horizon. 

The nature of the poet is simple because his inspira- 
tion is derived from his delight in or his awe of nature, 
from the passion of love, from the heroic deeds of men. 

172 



AND HIS TIMES 

Society becomes complex as its numbers increase, as 
competition to live grows more severe ; and the minds 
of men, intent on their relations towards each other, 
have no leisure for disinterested imaginings. There 
grows up a science of society, and, according as man is 
versed in this, is he esteemed among his fellows. Politics, 
law, commerce, are based not upon eternal principles, 
but expediency, compromise, evasion. Frederick 
Harrison has written that when a catastrophe occurs, 
the practical man of to-day does not " wrestle with his 
Maker in the spirit," as the Ironsides did. " He flies 
instantly to human resources, is guided by human science, 
and staves off suffering and death from thousands by 
calling in all the resources of learning, foresight, presence 
of mind, which the Providence of Humanity has trained 
him to use." In the same way, throughout the nineteenth 
century the prose writer tended more and more to sup- 
plant the poet. By the likeness of his form to the daily 
conversation of men, he approached them as one of 
themselves : and so meeting them upon familiar ground 
imperceptibly led them on. The poet wished at once 
to transport them to the wild lands where he had met 
with his spiritual adventures. Small wonder if their 
stiffened minds responded less and less to his call. 

" I believe I love poetry almost as much as ever," 
wrote FitzGerald at the age of forty, " but then I have 
been suffered to doze all these years in the enjoyment 
of old childish habits and sympathies, without being 
called on to more active and serious duties of life. I 
have not put away childish things, though a man." The 
basis of poetry is emotion, of prose, logic ; therefore 
the poet and his audience need experience of the world 
of the imagination, the prose writer and his audience 
experience of the world of realities. But the greater 
the crowds in which men come together, the more com- 
plex does society become, the harder is experience to 
attain ; and those who seek it, becoming increasingly 
preoccupied, dismiss as child's play the fairy regions 

i73 



EDWARD FITZGERALD 

of the poet. It is said that in Australia there are more 
readers of poetry than elsewhere, because its gigantic 
spaces absolve men from the fret of daily contact. Only 
in solitude can a quality like imaginative vision mature. 
Subtle harmonies like those of the late books of Paradise 
Lost do not stimulate the mind directly nor with violence. 
Time must elapse before such words murmured Into 
the whispering gallery of the soul return in arousing 
echoes. The inhabitant of the town, by multiplying 
his daily impressions, has numbed his heart to those 
rarer and more remote from his material cares, and 
arrested his spiritual development. 

Thus it has come about that in an overcrowded world 
a man excels his fellows according to his capacity for 
dealing with accumulated stores of worldly wisdom. 
And the price he pays for single-minded preoccupation 
with material things is loss of the sense of the mystery 
of life. With the decay of religion comes an era of 
suspicion, when men cease to believe in each other. 
They dispense with those virtues that are not self- 
regarding, and they acknowledge the duties of friendship 
only where there is a common interest. 

Above all it is in the commercial classes that the 
faults of the century culminate. If the object of educa- 
tion is to teach the right values of things, the effect of 
every profession is to undo this teaching. It would not 
be difficult to detect the false values of the politician, 
the lawyer, the schoolmaster. Commerce, which has 
no other end but to acquire money, has the effect of 
destroying the moral sense. The honesty of its pro- 
fessors, like the much-vaunted Spartan valour, is a 
quality imposed from without. They come to believe 
neither in love nor friendship, nor in anything that has 
not a financial basis. Theirs is what Ruskin called, 
vulgarity in its most fatal form, " the inability to feel or 
conceive noble character or emotion." They decide 
marriages in their families as they draw up a contract in 
business. Houston Chamberlain wrote that, " those 

i74 



AND HIS TIMES 

who do not inherit definite ideals with their blood are 
neither moral nor immoral, but simply without morals/ ' 
The failure of the man of commerce to teach right 
principles to his children is the cause of the growth of 
an unmoral race. 

In Fitz Gerald's letters we may trace the career of a 
poet born in a sophisticated world and an age of prose. 
It may be seen that of all the affections of his youth, 
conserved so faithfully through early manhood, only 
his favourite authors remained with him in old age. 
Rereading Scott's novels at the age of sixty-nine, he 
confesses that he is " eking them out as charily as I may. 
For I feel in parting with each, as parting with an old 
friend whom I may never see again." But unlike other 
notable letter-writers, as much is to be inferred from his 
silence as from his confessions. With Cowper and 
Byron it would be possible to reconstruct their lives 
from their letters, but not with FitzGerald. He is 
silent on the deepest subjects, and utters less his hopes 
and fears. How many readers of Cowper anticipate 
with joy the visit of his cousin, Lady Hesketh, assured 
that in her gentle companionship his dread malady 
will not recur. The darker side of FitzGerald's char- 
acter is not expressed in his letters ; he does not drain 
every thought from his soul. The autobiography is of 
that non-obtrusive kind which is delightful in conversa- 
tion. When he speaks of himself it is not because he 
feels the persistent ache of self, but as a mark of confi- 
dence in those whom he addresses. Like a man of 
social virtues, he abstains from subjects of a melancholy 
cast lest he should damp the spirits of the company. 
If he introduces a complaint he dismisses it with a jest 
or comparison : much in the spirit of Robinson Crusoe 
enumerating the kindnesses of fate on his island. His 
love for his friends is greater than his love for himself, 
and his letters are the essence of good conversation. 

FitzGerald had a genius for friendship, and at a time 
of life when the heart is most susceptible to impressions, 

175 



EDWARD FITZGERALD 

he had grouped round him men of the highest intellec- 
tual and emotional traits — Spedding, Thackeray, the 
Tennysons — to name no others. His life was one of 
leisure, free from professional or domestic occupations, 
and yet, when Spedding died, he had not seen him for 
twenty years ; Thackeray but once in ten years ; and 
when Tennyson visited Woodbridge in 1876, it was 
twenty years since they had met. In an ordinary man 
the reasons would not be far to seek ; but FitzGerald 
in old age retained the same love for his friends, and 
their images unclouded in his mind's eye. 

The first half of his letters are the most delightful 
to read, because a larger number are addressed to the 
friends of his youth, while in the remainder the more 
formal correspondent predominates. At the age of 
twenty-six he writes thus to John Allen : "I rejoice 
as much as ever in the thought of you, and feel confident 
that you will ever be to me the same best of friends 
that you ever have been. I owe more to you than all 
others put together." And to Frederic Tennyson : 
" Don't suppose that this or any other ideal day with 
him (Spedding) effaces my days with you." He is the 
most objective of letter-writers because he creates an 
interest in those to whom and of whom he writes. 
Frederic Tennyson becomes of greater account than his 
illustrious brother, although the kinsfolk of great men 
proverbially lose by comparison. But on no one of the 
group is such a glamour shed as Spedding, — to whom, 
unhappily, not a single letter has been preserved. Yet 
what reader's heart fails to bound when, glancing down 
a page, Spedding's name meets his eye ? As the heroes 
and heroines in some stories of the Arabian Nights fell 
in love with each other by hearsay, so interest grows up 
in him by allusion. A certain day that the pair spent 
together in London, " has left a taste on my palate 
like one of Plato's lighter, easier, and more picturesque 
dialogues." And again : " He is one of those I am 
well content to make shine at my own expense." When 

176 



AND HIS TIMES 

Spedding chanced to be ill, and a young man of his 
acquaintance went to sit with him, Fitzgerald wrote : 
" It really reminds me of some happy Athenian lad 
privileged to be with Socrates. Some Plato should put 
down the conversation." Spedding devoted his whole 
life to an edition of Bacon which should be a vindication. 
It was but a partial success, and, " I hear that even the 
wise old Spedding is mortified that he has awakened so 
little interest for his hero. You know his mortification 

would not be on his own score I say this life of 

his wasted on a vain work is a tragedy pathetic as Antigone 
or Iphigenia." And some years later on the same theme ; 
" I declare this is one of the most singular phenomena 
that has occurred in my day ; a thing to make Mon- 
taigne wake from the dead to make an essay upon." 
Spedding ultimately met with a tragical accident and was 
carried to St. George's Hospital. " Doctors and nurses 
all devoted to the patient man." And on his death, 
FitzGerald thus sums up his character : " He was 
the wisest man I have ever known : not the less so for 
plenty of the boy in him ; a great sense of humour, 
a Socrates in life and death, which he faced with all 
serenity." In short, " a man that would be incredible 
had one not known him." That all traces of direct 
correspondence between the two have disappeared, is 
indeed a cause for grief. What literary treasure-trove 
could surpass the discovery of a roll of FitzGerald's 
letters to him who was called by Carlyle, " the indefatig- 
ably patient, placidly invincible and victorious 
Spedding " ? 

Although the determining factor in FitzGerald's 
seclusion from the world and his friends was his un- 
lucky and short-lived marriage, there are previous signs 
of the ebb of his self-confidence. As early as 1 844 we 
find him expressing his hatred of London, his conviction 
that " a great city is a deadly plague." He is surprised 
that " worth and noble feeling " persist in the country, 
since railways have mixed us up with metropolitan 

i77 



EDWARD FITZGERALD 

civilization.' ' More and more the " horror of plunging 
into London " grows upon him ; and when he does 
frequent " a party of modern wits," he is glad " to 
creep into himself and wish himself away, talking to 
any Suffolk old woman in her cottage." He laments 
the decline of the " English gentry," " the distinguishing 
mark and glory of England in history, as the Arts were 
of Greece, and War of Rome." Some of the happiest 
hours in FitzGerald's life were spent in his sailing-boat ; 
and perhaps he loved the sea because it set a term to the 
ravages of man. 

But it was FitzGerald's marriage that finally divided 
him from the world, and he only partially forgot in 
later years the shock to his poetical temperament of 
daily contact with one that was positive and masterful. 
To find persistent fault with the sensitive is to destroy 
their belief in themselves and lead them to doubt their 
right to exist. The letters of FitzGerald's youth are 
written in high spirits, those of the last twenty-five 
years of his life have an apologetic tinge. He now only 
writes to his friends once or twice a year, and now and 
then he sends out his missive with a fear that it may 
reach his correspondent at an unseasonable time. " I 
have really no right to even a yearly response," he writes 
to Frederic Tennyson ; and a letter to Pollock contains 
the following message to Spedding : " Pray tell him 
that I don't now write to him, because I judged that 
having to answer me hung about his neck like a mill- 
stone. I am sure all the while that he would answer me 
by letter and deed if I asked him for any good service." 
As to a renewal of personal intercourse, the two following 
passages are specially significant : " I never do invite 
any of my oldest friends to come and see me, am almost 
distressed at their proposing to do so. If they take me 
in their way to, or from, elsewhere ... it is another 
matter." " I feel more nervous at the prospect of 
meeting with an old friend after these years than of any 
indifferent acquaintance. ... I feel that I have all 

178 



AND HIS TIMES 

to ask and nothing to tell ; and one doesn't like to make 
a pump of a friend." When Cowell returned from 
India after an absence of some years, the first essay to 
re-knit old acquaintance was disappointing. " I hope 
you don't think I have forgotten you," wrote FitzGerald 
after their meeting ; " your visit gave me a sad sort of 
pleasure." 

He does not grow bitter because he must relinquish 
the most poignant joys of his life. It is an inevitable 
sacrifice to the troubled times in which he lived ; and 
habits of seclusion, once set going, are not lightly 
checked. It is not the fault of his friends, and he is 
wistfully anxious to preserve perfect images of them in 
his heart. He is glad not to have seen Thackeray of 
recent years, since he was spoilt by success. He recurs 
often to this theme, and having heard that Thackeray 
had " a foible for great folks," he " wonders if this was 
really so." When Spedding is lying shattered in the 
hospital he writes : " My dear old Spedding, though 
I have not seen him these twenty years and more — and 
probably should never see him again — but he lives — 
his old self — in my heart of hearts." And to George 
Borrow : "I like to think over my old friends. There 
they are, lingering as ineffaceable portraits — done in 
the prime of life — in my memory. Perhaps we should 
not like one another so well after a fifteen years separa- 
tion." 

In his youth FitzGerald had been ambitious, but 
he placed life before art, and valued the love of friends 
more than the world's applause. Now in later life he 
realized himself a deedless man, and the equals of former 
days excelling all round him in their various spheres. 
It is not strange that a man unlearned in the lore of the 
world should have shunned personal contact with those 
who have successfully pushed their fortunes. The one 
theme of the past on which it would please him to dilate, 
would have but a remote interest for his hearers ; and he 
would come to dread that he was hearkened to as a favour. 

i79 



EDWARD FITZGERALD 

But no such scruples need oppress him when inter- 
course was contracted to yearly letters ; and hence, 
his later communications abound in exact records of time 
and place. " This time twenty years,' ' he writes to 
Co well, " you were going to me at Boulge Cottage : 
this time ten years you were preparing for India." To 
Carlyle : " I don't like wholly to lose an intercourse 
that has lasted more or less these twenty-eight years, 
yes, since I was staying with Thackeray and he took 
me to Chelsea one night." And now and then comes a 
picture in words, as if the author roused himself to bridge 
the gulf between hearts by pointing to at least one vivid 
experience in common saved from the wreck of years. 
Writing to Mrs. Charles Allen : " And all the place 
at Freestone. I can walk about it as I lie awake here, 
and see the very yellow flowers in the fields, and hear 
that distant sound of explosion in some distant quarry." 
And to Tennyson's wife, after the death of Spedding : 
" And dear J. S. at Mirehouse where your husband and 
I stayed, very near upon fifty years ago, in 1835 ^ was > 
in the month of May, when the daffodil was out in a 
field before the house, as I see them, though not in such 
force, owing to the cold winds, before my window now. 
Does A. T. remember them ? " 

A critic once wittily remarked that FitzGerald brought 
to Posh what he brought to Omar. It was the simplicity 
of his character which impelled him towards the boatman, 
as it had hindered him from keeping pace with his swifter- 
moving friends. " If he should turn out knave, I shall 
have done with all faith in my own judgment," he wrote ; 
and many of his letters are filled with extravagant eulogies 
of Posh. " You can't think what a grand, tender soul 
this is, lodged in a suitable carcase. . . ." " I want a 
good big head of the fellow, to hang up by old Thackeray 
and Tennyson, all three having a stamp of grandeur 
about them in their several ways, and occupying great 
places in my soul." " His simplicity of soul . . .justice 
of thought, tenderness of nature, and all the other good 

180 



AND HIS TIMES 

gifts which make him a gentleman of nature's grandest 
type." " I thought that both Tennyson and Thackeray 
were inferior to him in respect of thinking of themselves. " 
Whatever verdict may be passed on Posh's simplicity 
of soul, there is no doubt of FitzGerald's. He confided 
to Posh his innermost secrets, and even discussed his 
unhappy marriage. 

Had FitzGerald been born a hundred years earlier 
he might have realized his immortality on earth. The 
London of the eighteenth century would not have 
repelled him as did the London of the nineteenth. As 
a member of the Literary Club that revolved round 
Dr. Johnson, he would have retained the same friends 
and interests in old age. For FitzGerald was not akin 
to Wordsworth in his love of wild country, and elected 
to live " in a small house just outside a pleasant English 
town." In later years we find him writing : " I am 
afraid to leave the poor town with its little bustle ! As 
one grows older, lonelier and sadder, is not the little town 
best ? " What he feared was the portentous growth of 
the town which had followed the industrial revolution : 
the miles of dreary streets that meet the eye of the railway 
traveller as he draws near London ; the rows of factory 
chimneys polluting with their smoke once beautiful 
scenes ; and the swarming millions called out of the 
unknown to serve these terrible engines. Above all, 
he feared the suspicion sown in the human heart, the 
ideas and manners of the commercial classes, the decline 
of reverence for birth and culture, and the evils of demo- 
cratic institutions. And, not least, the altered scale of 
values engendered by the increased pressure on the 
means of subsistence : faith in the unseen — the former 
stay of character — displaced by knowledge of the 
psychology of associated men. 

To resist such tendencies would seem to FitzGerald 
as futile as the effort to stem the advance of the Atlantic. 
He was not to be won by the specious pleadings for 
return to nature of Rousseau and his fellow-senti- 

181 



EDWARD FITZGERALD 

mentalists. Browning once counselled a friend to abuse 
railways but to use them ; and FitzGerald well knew 
that the fever in the blood which had sprung from modern 
conditions was not to be exorcised by a theory. But 
minds like his are not dejected by the thought that an 
end will come of man's doings on earth. To him and 
some others, stories of the mounds of Babylon and of 
mighty cities which have arisen and flourished, and of 
which no traces remain, do not come amiss. There is 
even something consoling in the thought of Macaulay's 
New Zealander who is to take his stand on a broken 
arch of London Bridge to sketch the ruins of St. Paul's. 

Goldsmith once wrote that the fear of death may 
easily be borne, because its coming is uncertain. This 
is less true of the fear of life, because life is about and 
around us ; and he who knows this fear need only 
walk into an unfamiliar street or open a newspaper 
to be struck to the heart by some untoward sign. We 
are told that the best antidote is " to cultivate one's 
garden," to occupy one's self with " the mastery of some 
definite task," that " it is when men neglect their work 
and whisper together in clubs and public places that 
they become panic-stricken." 1 But this doctrine presses 
hardly on those to whom fortune allots no straw to make 
their bricks : the poet or artist, whose faculty does not 
depend on will. 

That FitzGerald suffered from the fear of life is to 
be inferred from his retreat from the world and his 
scanty poetical output. He must have shuddered at 
the growing town, as the cultured Roman of the Empire 
shuddered at the thought of the barbarian hordes lurking 
in the German forests. He turned from a world whence 
beauty had departed, and where the human spirit had 
been tethered to the material plane ; but, unlike Scott, 
he could not forget the hideous present in the romantic 
past. He conserved the memory of what he had seen, 
and the result was to freeze his creative springs. His 

1 The Times ; October 3rd, 19 10. 

182 



AND HIS TIMES 

was no rage or hatred of man, like Swift's, but something 
akin to the anxious fears of Pascal for the human race, 
joined to fear for himself, that he was looked upon as a 
drone in the gigantic hive of modern industry. Un- 
conscious of having produced an immortal work in 
the Omar, he almost apologises for his life of leisure. 
And yet he was so simple-natured, so easily pleased, 
and by such a hair's-breadth did he miss happiness, 
that his speculations of delight in ideal regions are always 
accompanied by a backward look at the world which he 
is leaving. It is this spirit which informs the most 
wistful stanza of the Omar : — 

" Ah Love ! could you and I with Him conspire 
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire, 
Would not we shatter it to bits — and then 
Remould it nearer to the Heart's Desire ! " 



is. 



Howell 



BOSWELL 

WAS it Steele who wrote, in the character of a 
disappointed man, that all his life he had struggled 
for the applause of the world and won nothing but its 
ridicule ? How nearly such a fate has befallen Boswell 
must be plain to all students of the history of the John- 
sonian epic. Gray's mischievous saying that " any fool 
may write a most valuable book by chance, if he will 
only tell us what he heard and said with veracity," and 
Macaulay's ill-natured essay, have established in the 
heart of the general reader a prejudice against Boswell. 
Despite Carlyle, despite critics such as Leslie Stephen 
and Mr. Percy Fitzgerald, there is still something of 
novelty in the assertion that Boswell was a genius. 

The art of the biographer is to set forth the inner 
character of his subject, and therefore Boswell and 
Plutarch are pre-eminent. But that wherein Boswell 
stands alone is that he has made biography the means 
of realization of self. The widespread prejudice against 
him has hindered the recognition of the true significance 
of this. Many who would acclaim De Quincey or Sir 
Thomas Browne for the intimacy of their personal 
revelations have denounced Boswell for shamelessness 
and vanity. 

BoswelFs methods of composition are themselves a 
refutation of those who believe with Gray. His connec- 
tion with Johnson lasted for more than twenty years, 
during which time he never ceased to amass material 
for the life, and to note down conversations which had 

187 



BOSWELL 

taken place at the Mitre or Literary Club, or any other 
favourite resort. It was not till after the sage's death 
that he began to recast his abundant material ; and 
when he took pen in hand, the great figure of Johnson 
had moved nearer to his spiritual vision. Jowett observed 
that nothing in Aristophanes is more truly Aristophanic 
than the speech which Plato puts into his mouth in the 
Symposium, as to the origin of the sexes ; and such 
is the impression left by Bos well's conjecture of what 
Johnson's reply would have been to a formal invitation 
to the Wilkes dinner : " Dine with Jack Wilkes, sir ; 
I'd as soon dine with Jack Ketch ! " Boswell's book is 
no mere transcript of reality, but the work of his sub- 
conscious mind ; no monument of skilful reporting, 
but a record of imaginative insight into a great character. 
He had outwardly preserved Johnson's speeches and 
acts in his note book, and then dismissed them into the 
depths of his being. When after years they emerged 
into the light of day, and were subjected to the revision 
of the conscious mind, they had suffered the sea change. 
It was a vindication of Carlyle's saying, " Out of silence 
comes thy strength." 

And yet, the Life of Johnson, in spite of its success, 
was for many years denied the attribute of greatness. 
Boswell's ghost might be pleased to learn that the 
causes which retarded his reputation were akin to those 
which retarded Shakespeare's. The same criticism which 
condemned Macbeth as a mixture of horrors and 
platitudes assessed the immortal biography merely as a 
work of entertainment. Shakespeare's character is a 
mystery because he allows no personal whim to come 
between himself and his characters ; and Boswell's 
vanity never hinders his rendering of essential truth. 
It is the universality in both writers which makes the 
whole of Shakespeare and portions of Boswell more like 
a natural force than the work of individual genius. 

The prejudice against Boswell — which his ill-regulated 
life had much to do in promoting — has hindered a true 

188 



BOSWELL 

appreciation of his character as well as his work. It is 
needless to repeat the countless harsh epithets which have 
been applied to one of the most lovable of English authors. 
Much is forgiven to the man of genius, and every 
characteristic trait of genius was Boswell's ; but as the 
perfection of his art blinded the public to its merits, so 
it was with his character, and therefore he is not forgiven. 
Macaulay and many others have formed wrong estimates 
through arguing backwards from some more than 
usually heinous act committed in public. Only shall 
we reach the truth when we start from the assumption 
that Boswell had the emotional instability of the man of 
genius. 

We speak of the " simplicity " of great men until the 
phrase, like many another, loses its meaning by repetition. 
The truth is that if a great man is simple it is in every 
other department of life but that which concerns his 
greatness. Power does not arise suddenly, but is evolved 
from small beginnings ; and evolution — if Herbert 
Spencer's definition be still admitted — is progress from 
the simple to the complex, from the homogeneous to 
the heterogeneous. Napoleon and Bismarck were 
simple in their domestic relations, and it is believed 
that both were excellent husbands and fathers ; but 
their tactical and political faculties did not spring from 
the emotional nature. The gifts which make a poet 
are those of the heart rather than the head ; his com- 
plexity is of the emotional nature ; and he is as often 
an indifferent man of the world as an indifferent family 
man. The Philistine is far more likely to love once and 
once only, than the poet who, with Sterne, must never 
be without a Dulcinea. 

It is convenient to apply the word " poet " to all 
imaginative writers, independent of the accident of form ; 
and we will speak of Boswell as having the poetic 
temperament. It is admitted that the possessor of this 
temperament is out of touch with the real world, and 
the cause is not alone that he is rapt in a world of ideals. 

189 



BOSWELL 

For knowledge reaches the brain through the gateway 
of the feelings, and practical knowledge can be better 
discriminated by the simple than the complex emotional 
nature. The failure of the poet in business or politics is 
explained by one of the oldest truths in the world : the 
subjectivity of all knowledge. 

Where there is sensibility there is imagination, and 
as the impression comes, the flash of imagination lights 
up no single highway of action, but a multitude of lanes ; 
and the bewildered poet flies to others, and begs them 
to choose for him. He becomes abnormally sensitive 
to suggestion, and of this the extremest instance is 
Romney, who abandoned his wife because Sir Joshua 
Reynolds said that an artist had better be unmarried. 
Similarly, when Johnson expressed a strong wish to 
see the Great Wall of China, Boswell, who had never 
before thought on the subject, at once caught the 
enthusiasm. And he once requested Johnson to furnish 
him with a list of arguments in favour of Christianity, 
that he might never feel uneasy when his faith was 
attacked. Among such numberless channels is the 
incoming tide distributed that the poet cannot prefer 
one or two, as does the ordinary man. 

A contrast will illustrate the Boswellian strength 
and weakness. He once complained that after a supper 
with Johnson his head had ached from the effect of wine. 
" It was not the wine," said Johnson, " that made your 
head ache, but the sense that I put into it " ; on which 
Boswell asked, in genuine surprise, " Will sense make 
the head ache ? " From the naivete of this question 
let us turn to the insight of the following passage from 
one of his Hypocondriac essays : "I am not at all 
clear that evils, when they actually happen, will be less 
felt by us from having contemplated them long before. 
They will come loaded with additional darkness from 
the clouds of imagination, and if the mind be weakened 
and worn by fanciful sufferings, it will be less able to 
bear a severe shock than if it met it with that sound 

190 



BOSWELL 

vigour which is produced by security and happiness/' 
Even when, like Bacon, the poet is steeped to the lips 
in theoretical worldly wisdom, it seems to avail him 
little ; as witness Bacon's downfall from the chancellor- 
ship, the disorder of his private life, and his inability 
to restrain his servants. The affairs of the world demand 
instantaneous decisions, and, at times, disregard of the 
opinions and the susceptibilities of others ; and here the 
poet finds he has assumed a character which he cannot 
sustain. He is overmuch incensed by rudeness, or 
grateful for consideration. One of the maxims for success 
in life is " Never apologise " ; but if he commits rough 
actions it is in a hesitating manner, which unfixes him 
in the estimation of his fellows as a serious rival, and in 
the respect of inferiors. Or should he win a victory, 
so great will be his compunction for his fallen foe that 
he will abandon the spoils. His capacity for feeling is 
not necessarily more intensive than those about him, 
but certainly more extensive ; and hence he can be 
turned even from a righteous cause by an air of convic- 
tion in an opponent or an assumption of distress. The 
self-assurance of the average man lies in his incapacity 
for extensive feeling. 

The world marvels at Shakespeare's imagining of the 
fool side by side with Lear, but censures Boswell for 
introducing quotations from the devotional Ogden in 
the midst of a drinking-bout. It admires Donne's 
comparison of himself and his beloved to a pair of 
compasses, but sneers at Boswell when, having written 
an account of his wife's death to his friend Temple in a 
truly heartbroken strain, he concludes : " There were 
nineteen carriages followed the hearse, and a large body 
of horsemen and the tenants of all my lands." The 
distinguishing faculty of the poet is to feel many things 
simultaneously, and its literary expression is metaphor. 

Lombroso denied to the man of genius both tact and 
moderation. The second of these strictures is too 
obvious to need comment ; the first may be partially 

191 



BOSWELL 

accepted, if " tact " implies that quality by which a man 
attains his own end without giving offence. It is the 
difficulties in their own natures that have made the 
wisest poets of the modern world pass their lives in 
retirement, and shun the disasters that have attended 
those of their company who have attempted to take part 
in the business of life. And because of this disability 
we are told that the poet remains an eternal child. The 
comparison illustrates not only the poetic simplicity, 
but also its complexity ; for among worldlings the boy 
is emotionally more developed than the man. As years 
pass on, the current is confined more and more to one 
or two well-worn channels. " 'Tis an error, surely, to 
talk of the simplicity of youth/ ' says Thackeray. " I 
think no persons are more hypocritical, and have a more 
affected behaviour to one another, than the young. They 
deceive themselves and each other with artifices that do 
not impose upon men of the world ; and so we get to 
understand truth better, and grow simpler as we grow 
older." 

Hypocrisy and self-deception are unjust charges 
against men of poetic genius ; for hypocrisy is the 
assumption of a feeling, and not, as in the case of the poet, 
its imaginative recall. " I have endeavoured to feel 
what I ought to feel," wrote Coleridge on one occasion ; 
and the phrase throws a flood of light on the peculiar 
temperament. We hear that Sheridan, on becoming 
acquainted with Warren Hastinsg, exclaimed expansively 
that the speech he had delivered against him at the im- 
peachment was dictated by political necessity. ' Will 
you make that public ? " replied the practical man of 
affairs ; and Sheridan was at once abashed. It will be 
remembered that, after eloping with Mary Wollstone- 
craft, Shelley wrote to the forsaken Harriet urging her 
to join them in Switzerland, " where you will at last 
find one firm and constant friend to whom your interests 
will be always dear — by whom your feelings will never 
wilfully be injured." Matthew Arnold explained the 

192 



BOSWELL 

causes of this proceeding to be " an entirely human 
inflammability, joined to an inhuman want of humour 
and a superhuman power of self-deception." Yet, if 
we keep in mind the intricacy of the poet's emotional 
organization, something of our virtuous anger will be 
remitted even in the case of Shelley. It is tempting to 
think that even the great Chatham may be numbered 
among the unknowing in the affairs of men, and that he 
affected social retirement through inability to hold his 
own. He was unversed, it is said, in financial or com- 
mercial matters, and even in the procedure of the House 
of Commons. Lecky tells how there was little close 
argument in his speeches, that " he delighted in touching 
the moral chords, in appealing to strong passions, and 
in arguing questions on high grounds of principle rather 
than on grounds of detail. " 

Knowledge of business is said to consist in mastery 
of detail, but of all knowledge the same may be said. 
There are emotional facts equally with business facts ; 
and to the poet the man of business is as much a child 
in the emotional world. Complexity implies departure 
from rule, and where a child could have grasped the 
rule, the exceptions demand a much-developed nature. 
But the poet, when he is playing for a worldly stake, 
will learn his rules by heart, and adhere to them with a 
pertinacity which will draw down upon him the ridicule 
of all who can discriminate. No doubt Boswell had heard 
of men rising in the world through patronage, and he 
was familiar with the saying that perseverance over- 
comes all obstacles. All through his life, therefore, 
he sought the acquaintance of those who might serve 
him, without clear conception of what the service was 
to be. We are told that Bacon was " the most importu- 
nate and untiring of suitors," but he differed from 
Boswell in having a more definite aim. 

Some poets — notably the Lake School — have been 
content to live their lives apart ; but renunciation is not 
effected without a struggle, and to the imaginative 

i93 



B O S W E L L 

mind the world has much that is alluring. The poet 
may court disaster in politics, like Dante or Milton ; 
he may speak unguardedly, like Byron or Pater, and so 
damage his reputation. For eccentricity is born of the 
wish to shine, and of despair of emulating those with 
" strong personalities," who push their fortunes with 
success, and whose strength is built upon emotional 
narrowness. The most painful disharmony is the wish 
of the poet to excel in a world for which he is unfit. As 
this globe consists more of water than land — an argument 
used against design in creation — so the nature of the poet 
is given over to change and tempest, and remains in- 
hospitable to the human settler. 

In the Athens of Pericles, or the England of Elizabeth, 
the poet might still consort with the great upon equal 
terms ; but Boswell lived in the reign of George III, 
when the foundations of the modern world were laid. 
The characteristic of a utilitarian age is co-operation, 
the undertaking of gigantic enterprises by the union 
of many hands and minds. The man of feeling, who 
thinks to capture this highly organized modern world, 
mistakes it for a Jericho round which he is to walk blow- 
ing his trumpet till its walls fall flat. There is a tendency 
to externalize all values ; even rank, without wealth, is 
looked upon with less and less respect. We are told 
to mistrust every impulse lest we should jar this complex 
machine of modern life. No less must charity be 
bestowed through recognized agencies, with the result 
of what the more thoughtful journalists call " spiritual 
leanness." Into so many departments has the business 
of life become specialized that mastery of the whole is 
impracticable. When men meet together their conversa- 
tion is limited to material facts ; and he is valued who 
can show the point under discussion in its relation to 
the vast social structure. But the poet is overcome by 
the predominance of the external world, and like a very 
child sits mute. He will either decline the combat by 
agreeing with each in turn or lose his temper. 

194. 



BOSWELL 

Carlyle, whose ideas were primitive, has said that no 
great man has ever been troubled by the wish to shine ; 
but Boswell was born into an age when greatness must 
be ratified by the popular vote. A life of security in 
towns has caused religious fears to yield to the tyranny 
of custom, and each seeks the approval of his fellow- 
men rather than his conscience. But the poet, whose 
social sense is abnormally developed, treats the whole 
world as he would his family, and reveals himself in all 
his weaknesses with implicit trust in its tolerance. When 
Boswell was in Berlin and wished to visit Italy, he 
requested the British Ambassador to unite in supplicat- 
ing his father for the required funds. Dignity is hardly 
preserved by him who can scarcely open his lips without 
self-revelation, and who gives another the advantage of 
acquaintance with his inner thoughts. The sympathies 
of the poet extend to all, irrespective of age or station in 
life or character ; and by the love or hate of the lowest 
of mortals can he be cheered or wounded. Boswell was 
no poet as Spenser or Shelley were poets. The life of 
London as it was sufficed him ; and had there been a 
throne for him among those of statesmen or generals or 
great authors, he could have dispensed with an ideal 
scheme. 

The errors which have undone Boswell are those of 
the typical man of genius ; the emotional instability, 
the predominance of the world of ideas over the world 
of realities, the deficiency in tact, the over-developed 
social sense. How characteristic is the letter to Erskine, 
written in his twenty-second year, wherein he sets forth 
the hopes and ambitions of his life ! He is to enjoy 
brilliant scenes of happiness as an officer of the guards ; 
lured to this regiment, no doubt, by the splendour of 
its uniform. Ministers of State and ladies of quality 
are to seek his acquaintance ; dukes to invite him to their 
country seats ; and there he is to acquire a perfect 
knowledge of men and manners, and form friendships 
with the learned and ingenious in every science. He is to 

i95 



BOSWELL 

make a triumphal tour through Europe, and gather 
honours at every court. He is to become a greater 
orator than Pitt, repel a Spanish invasion at the head of 
his regiment, and marry a lady with a hundred thousand 
pounds. His children are to be worthy of their glorious 
father ; and when he dies, statues are to be erected to 
his immortal honour . . Yet this rhapsody has a strange 
conclusion. " I am thinking that my mind is too delicate 
and my feelings too fine for the rough bustle of life. 

I shall steal silently and unperceived through the 

world " 

The poetic nature is proverbially one of extremes, 
and BoswelFs love of the life of towns amounted to a 
passion. It has been justly said that when he visited the 
Hebrides with Johnson, their object was not the enjoy- 
ment of scenery, but the spectacle of men and manners. 
The only excellence which he was fitted to attain was 
literary, but he was dazzled by the pageant of the world 
and dissipated his energies in quest of social or political 
distinction His dependence on the verdict of others is 
amusingly illustrated by a footnote in the Tour to the 
Hebrides : " My great grandfather . . . was Alexander, 
Earl of Kincardine . . . From him the blood of Bruce 
flows in my veins. Of such ancestry who would not be 
proud ? And, as Nihil est, nisi hoc sciat alter, is peculiarly 
true of genealogy, who would not be glad to seize a fair 
opportunity to let it be known ? " Again, in his second 
Letter to the People of Scotland, he turns the stream of 
politics into personal channels, such as his affection 
for his wife, the degree of his courage, his noctes attic* 
with Goldsmith and Reynolds. It recalls Mark Patti- 
son's stricture on Milton's method in the Morus 
controversy ; how, instead of stating the case of the 
republic, " he holds Europe listening to an account of 
himself, his accomplishments, his studies and travels, his 
stature, the colour of his eyes, his skill in fencing, etc." 

It is unfortunate that we know nothing of Boswell's 
mother beyond the single record that she was " a woman 

196 



BOSWELL 

of almost unexampled piety and goodness." Lord 
Auchinleck, though not harsh in deeds, was at least harsh 
in words ; and it was doubtless maternal indulgence 
that prevented Boswell's spirit from being crushed in 
childhood, and so retrieved the gaiety of succeeding 
generations. The temperaments of Boswell and his 
father were antipodean, the latter being narrow, un- 
emotional, and practical ; and his last years were 
embittered by his son's failure in serious business. With 
his influence and connections, Boswell might have 
attained to some eminence at the Scottish Bar, but all 
his sympathies drew him to London, and he essayed 
in vain to make an opening for himself at the English 
Bar. We cannot but commiserate the old Laird when 
we reflect how far he was from divining the true cause 
of this sacrifice of opportunity to whim, viz., the supremacy 
of the internal world. 

To a nature like Boswell's, encouragement was 
essential, and had he encountered a series of rebuffs in 
youth, he might never have Johnsonized the land. It 
was his adventure in Corsica and his success in winning 
the friendship of Paoli that gave him a position in 
London society. In his vague wish for distinction he 
had turned his steps to Corsica because it was unknown 
to his fellow-countrymen. From that time, as all his 
critics have remarked, his diffidence in the presence of 
the great vanished. On his return to London he gazed 
undaunted into the eagle face of Chatham ; and the 
words in which he suggested a familiar correspondence 
with that minister are too well known for quotation. 
Yet in the preface to his book on Corsica there occurs 
a self-revealing passage, where he admits himself out of 
touch with real life. He acknowledges his desire for 
the fame of an author as the means of " establishing 
himself as a respectable character in distant society, 
without any danger of having that character lessened 
by the observation of his weaknesses. To preserve a 
uniform dignity among those who see us every day is 

197 



BOSWELL 

hardly possible. . . . The author of an approved book 
may allow his natural disposition an easy play, and yet 
indulge the pride of superior genius . . " 

To live his romance rather than to write it was Boswell's 
aim, and his faculty of " make believe " was worthy of 
the eternal child. He delighted in assuming the dress 
of a Corsican chief, and when he visited Chatham to 
entreat help for Corsica, it was in that garb. He sang 
to an audience of Corsican sailors a translation of 
" Hearts of Oak," and as they joined in the chorus he 
imagined himself a recruiting sea-officer. At Fort 
George the drum beat for dinner, and it pleased him 
for the moment to be a military man. We must seek a 
parallel in Lamb who, strolling about Oxford in the 
Long Vacation, became Master of Arts, or Seraphic 
Doctor, as the spirit moved him ; or rose at the chapel- 
bell, and dreamt that it rang for him. The effect of 
music on Boswell was to produce alternate sensations 
of pathetic dejection, and daring resolution which inclined 
him to rush into the thickest part of the battle. And 
his regard for Johnson was such that on one occasion, 
" I thought I could defend him at the point of my sword." 
Nor must be omitted the famous scene at Inverary 
Castle, when the " gay inviting appearance " of the 
ladies' maids, " tripping about in neat morning dresses," 
made such an impression on his fancy that he " could 
have been a knight-errant for them." 

It is small wonder that cooling breezes blew from the 
land of material facts upon Boswell's imaginative ardour. 
He failed in his profession, he mismanaged his financial 
affairs, and contrived to run into debt. He was patheti- 
cally anxious for his father to increase his allowance ; 
but Lord Auchinleck, who was bound for the £1000, 
which his son owed, reduced it by £100 ; on which 
Boswell exclaims that his father " is really a strange 
man." Many of the letters to his friend Temple contain 
allusions to the terms on which he stands with his father. 
He writes : " How happy should I be to get an 

198 



BOSWELL 

independency by my own influence while my father is 
alive." And again : " He has a method of treating 
me which makes me feel myself like a timid boy," which 
to Boswell " (comprehending all that my character does 
in my own imagination) is intolerable." Or, " How 
galling is it to the friend of Paoli to be treated so ! " 

Boswell's career illustrates the failure of the man of 
poetic genius to hold his own against less gifted denizens 
of the material world. His intercourse with Templet 
younger brother is truly characteristic of him and his 
tribe. " I have unluckily allowed him to be too free 
with me ; and I own it hurts me when I find my folly 
bringing me into the situation of being upon an equality 
with, if not below, the young man." Pope could be 
incited to fury by the meanest Grub Street scribbler ; 
and it has been said of Hans Andersen that he was too 
much of a child himself to be wholly fond of children. 
We find Boswell censuring as injudicious the custom of 
introducing children after dinner, and allowing them 
" to poison the moments of festivity by attracting the 
attention of the company." That nation is most vulner- 
able which has the widest territory ; and the emotional 
system of the poet, like a long and scantily guarded 
seaboard, offers landing to the feeblest invader. 

In the life of towns the fittest to survive are the 
unemotional. Not the least of Boswell's mortifications 
was that he could not get the world to take him seriously. 
He wished in vain to attach himself to the Ministry and 
to enter Parliament ; and when Johnson died, the 
booksellers entrusted the official biography to other 
hands, although Boswell's Tour to the Hebrides had been 
published with success. In connecting himself with 
Johnson, Boswell found a means of indirectly satisfying 
his craving for consideration ; and it is to the lovable 
qualities in Johnson's nature that we owe the duration 
of the tie. Had the stage of Paoli's exploits been 
England, had Chatham " found time to honour him 
with a letter," had Pitt's ear been less obdurate to the 

199 



BOSWELL 

strains of the " Grocer of London,' ' Boswell's worship 
might have been diffused among various idols. 

Johnson was a " friendly " man, and the virtue which 
he most honoured was sincerity. It was his own pos- 
session of it that made Carlyle enrol him among the 
Heroes ; and because Boswell was fundamentally 
sincere, he was accepted of Johnson. Much exaggera- 
tion has attended the rebukes which Johnson administered 
to his follower ; and, if they have survived, it is because 
of their intrinsic wit. The truth is that of the two 
Johnson had most to forgive, in the assiduities of one 
who had neither moderation nor worldly tact. We know 
the kind of questions with which he plied the sage, 
such as " Why is an apple round and a pear pointed ? " 
and if, in addition to their absurdity, we presume that 
Boswell was indiscreet in the choice of his questioning- 
time, it is natural that Johnson now and then determined 
to snub him in public. " The man compels me to treat 
him so," he said, after one outburst ; and having glanced 
through the pages of Boswell's Tour to the Hebrides, he 
observed : " One would think the man had been hired 
to be a spy upon me." 

Johnson was Boswell's greatest asset in his ambitious 
schemes. It was not his acquaintance that sufficed 
Boswell, but a friendship of that esoteric kind which 
might exist between kinsfolk ; for it is only when free 
scope is given to the emotional nature that the man of 
poetic genius can hold his own. Therefore, in the early 
stages, he was jealous of Goldsmith's privilege to be 
invited to Johnson's house to drink tea with Mrs. 
Williams ; and when the favour was extended to 
himself he grasped it eagerly. Since he could not shine 
by his own prowess he would do so indirectly through 
that of his friend, and receive the same kind of homage 
that is accorded to the family of a great man. The 
superstition that Boswell was taxed to the utmost limit 
of his endurance in his discipleship of Johnson still 
needs some dispelling. To refute it one must remember 

200 



BOSWELL 

Johnson's dependence on his fellow-creatures, his 
hypochondria, and dread of solitude. The letter in which 
he conveyed the news of his wife's death affected the 
recipient as the strongest expression of grief he had ever 
heard. It was his habit to accompany his visitors down 
the stairs as far as the street door, in the hope that they 
might turn back. The partial success of his visit to 
BoswelFs house is well known, and no one deplored it 
more than Johnson. " I know that Mrs. Boswell does 
not love me," was the burden of his letters to Boswell 
thenceforth ; and here are some extracts which prove 
that years afterwards the incident was still fresh in his 
mind : " I am glad that my old enemy, Mrs. Boswell, 
begins to feel some remorse." " I was pleased to be told 
that I accused Mrs. Boswell unjustly, in supposing that 
she bears me ill-will. " " Make my compliments to 
Mrs. Boswell, who is, I hope, reconciled to me, and to 
the young people whom I have never offended. " To 
Mrs. Boswell he had previously written : " Do not 
teach the young ones to dislike me, as you dislike me 
yourself." No one was more scrupulous to keep 
friendships in repair than Johnson ; he counted a year 
wasted in which he made no new friend ; and so far 
from just tolerating Boswell, he grappled him to his 
heart with hoops of steel. " If I were to lose Boswell, it 
would be a limb amputated," is his reported saying ; 
and the fact that the following sentences, scattered among 
a correspondence of years, have been preserved by the 
man whose praises they celebrate, does not lessen their 
value : " I consider your friendship as a possession 
which I intend to hold till you take it from me, and 
to lament if ever by my fault I should lose it." " Do 
not neglect to write to me, for your kindness is one of 
the pleasures of my life, which I should be sorry to lose." 
" I have heard you mentioned as a man whom everybody 
likes." " I love every part about you — but your affecta- 
tion of distress." " Were I in distress, there is no man 
to whom I should sooner come than to you." And 

201 



BOSWELL 

these two sayings, which Johnson delivered to Boswell 
at the time of his last illness, are well worth pondering : 
" You must be as much with me as you can. You have 
done me good. You cannot think how much better 
I am since you came in." " Boswell, I think I am easier 
with you than with almost anybody." In the exchange 
of provocations, nothing can exceed Boswell's behaviour 
to Johnson at Miss Monckton's reception, when, entering 
the room in a state of intoxication, he placed himself 
next to Johnson and addressed him in a boisterous 
manner, to let the company know how he could contend 
with Ajax. When he made a penitential call upon the 
sage a few days later, he was received with the most 
" friendly gentleness." Yet the world still believes 
with Carlyle that insult was Boswell's daily portion. 

It is hard to credit, according to latest theories, that 
Boswell wrote the Life of Johnson solely with the purpose 
of self-aggrandisement. His repeated requests for 
expressions of Johnson's good will, his meticulous fears 
on one occasion that he was too easy in his presence, and 
missed " that awful reverence with which he used to 
contemplate Mr. Samuel Johnson," reveal genuine 
love. Perhaps the truth is that there was, within the 
width of Boswell's emotional nature, affection side by 
side with the desire to shelter himself behind the buttress 
of Johnson's fame. The failure of the poet to carry 
weight in the counsels of men leads him to adopt the 
device of using his great friends as weapons. Aware 
that he is not taken seriously, he will rather quote the 
opinion of others than express his own disapproval. 
Thus we find Boswell repeating to Hume the saying of 
Temple that he was the Government's " infidel pen- 
sioner " ; to Foote that of Johnson that he was an infidel 
as a dog is an infidel because he had never thought on the 
subject of religion ; to Lord Monboddo Johnson's 
sarcasm that he talked nonsense without knowing it ; 
and many others. Both the Tour of the Hebrides and the 
Life of Johnson called forth a storm of protest because 

202 



B O S W E L L 

of their treatment of living persons. The hospitality 
which Boswell received on his journey he repaid with 
fault-finding and even abuse. Having on one occasion 
mischievously persuaded his hostess to offer Dr. Johnson 
a cold sheep's head for breakfast, he remarked that 
" Sir Allan seemed displeased at his sister's vulgarity." 
At Sir John Dalrymple's, they " went to bed in ancient 
rooms, which would have better suited the climate of 
Italy in summer, than that of Scotland in the month of 
November.' ' From the Life one might select many more 
of these indiscretions ; and even the excellent Langton 
is treated with some patronage. The truth is that when 
Boswell took pen in hand he felt himself in a position 
to repay the slights he had received as he went to and 
fro in the world. The voice of the poet may be drowned 
in the tumult of lesser men ; but in the seclusion of the 
study he can shape with effect those sentences which a 
nervous manner has disarmed. He can apportion 
praise and blame at his will, and those who would have 
scoffed at his oral judgments are now struck in the joints 
of their armour. 

It will be remembered that Boswell repeated to 
Johnson his wife's saying that she had often seen a 
bear led by a man, but never a man led by a bear ; and 
that Johnson in consequence hastened his departure 
from their house. Obviously, this belongs to a different 
category from the indiscretions already noted, since to 
neither of these persons did Boswell wish to give offence. 
He repeated it as an instance of his wife's humour, and 
he expected Johnson to enjoy the joke. Similarly, 
scattered through the Life, are numberless aspersions 
on living men set down without intent to harm ; and 
the storm which they raised surprised no one more than 
Boswell. The explanation is that Boswell conceived 
imaginatively of Johnson and his circle — as Homer 
did the siege of Troy, or Shakespeare the history of 
England. His work is that of the poet, not the reporter ; 
and in his anxiety to body forth the vision that was 

203 



BOSWELL 

within him, he neglected the laws of the external world. 

That Boswell inadvertently treated himself with 
equal roughness is obvious to all. Mention has been 
made of the effect of music on himself, in his own words. 
To this Johnson replied, " If it made me such a fool I 
should never hear it." Boswell was totally unconscious 
that the speech applied to himself, and he pursued the 
subject in yet further detail. Again, one of the most 
notorious episodes of the Hebrides journey was Boswell's 
riot at Corrichatachin. Next day he nervously antici- 
pated Johnson's visit to his bedside, but when that 
event occurred, he was much relieved by the sage's 
"indulgence" and "jocularity," — whereas, to the 
ordinary reader, he appears ironically contemptuous. 
So autocratic a father is the poet's wish to his thought, 
so deluding are the gleams which imagination throws 
across the hard road of life. 

Mr. Percy Fitzgerald has shown conclusively that 
Boswell and Johnson were not on terms of friendship 
at the time of the latter's death ; and he regrets the lost 
picture of the final scene that Boswell would have drawn. 
Boswell was unlike Johnson, who was ready to forgive 
angry expressions ; and it is probable that words spoken 
in haste and suffered to grow cold were re-animated by 
his imagination, as the frozen viper in the countryman's 
bosom. There had been previous periods of separation 
when Boswell had brooded over offences, till the memory 
of former scenes of festivity again filled his mind, and he 
hastened up to London. The imaginative are prone to 
resentment, for theirs is the power of calling up scenes 
and reapplying words ; and these, removed from the 
amenities of human intercourse, work like poison in the 
system. 

The sorrows of the man of genius were experienced 
by Boswell in full measure. A prey to ambition from 
earliest youth, he saw men of meaner capacity passing 
him in the race. In his forty-ninth year he wrote to 
Temple that he was " constitutionally unfit for any 

204 



BOSWELL 

employment." When his wife died, he was faced with 
the problem of directing the lives of his children. " While 
she lived, I had no occasion almost to think concerning 
my family ... I am the most helpless of human 
beings. " It is not surprising that his eldest son began 
to " oppose " him. His affairs were involved, his 
constitution was yielding to habits of intemperance, 
there was no practice at the Bar, and no seat in Parlia- 
ment. It was indeed : " O Temple ! Temple ! is this 
realising any of the towering hopes which have so often 
been the subject of our conversations and letters ? " 
He did live to see the success of his great biography, 
but there is an uncertainty about the fate of all original 
works, — and how long it has been in finding true 
estimation ! 

The characters of the world are frequently compared 
with those of fiction. There is one trait in Bottom the 
Weaver which recalls the side of Boswell expressed in 
the memorable letter to Erskine. " Let me play Thisby, 
too," " Let me play the lion, too," exclaims Bottom, 
as he foresees their opportunities to win applause. But 
there is something in the closing scene of Boswell's life 
which recalls not the least beautiful deathbed in fiction. 
In Esmond, Lord Castlewood dies " with a blessing 
on his lips, and love and repentance and kindness in his 
manly heart." And so, the last letter which Boswell 
wrote, or rather dictated, through weakness, to his life- 
long friend, concluded thus : " God bless you, my 
dear Temple ! I ever am your old and affectionate 
friend here, and, I trust, hereafter." 



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